NY-NJ Terminals Battle Ice, Backlogs

NY-NJ Terminals Battle Ice, Backlogs

New York-New Jersey container terminals reopened on Feb. 10 to long truck queues as the terminals struggle with ice, congestion and delays that truckers say are causing cargo to be routed to other ports.

The most severe congestion last week was at Maher Terminals. Today, it was at APM Terminals and Port Newark Container Terminal. At 9:30 a.m., queues outside terminal gates extended more than two miles from APMT, and about a mile and a half from PNCT.

Maher, APMT, Global Terminal and PNCT will stay open on Feb. 12 on Lincoln’s Birthday, an International Longshoremen’s Association holiday, to clear backlogs.

Drayage operators have complained that detention payments, which generally kick in after drivers spend two hours inside terminals, don’t cover hours of time spent waiting outside terminal gates. Long queue times also eat up drivers hours of service, which are limited by federal regulations.

Maher, which handles 40 percent of the port’s container traffic and has had heavy congestion for most of the last month, said on Feb. 7 it would add two hours to each driver’s detention time between Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 to account for any undocumented queue time.

The terminal also kept its gates open Saturday, when they normally are closed, and waived free time and froze demurrage over the weekend.

APM Terminals gates will remain open Tuesday, Feb. 11, until 9 p.m., five hours later than usual, for pickups and deliveries for Maersk Line only. The cutoff for reefer shipments will remain 3:30 p.m.

New York-New Jersey terminals have been in crisis since the start of the year. They fell behind on operations during consecutive mid-week holidays for Christmas and New Year’s Day and have been blasted by a series of winter storms since early January.

Icy conditions have been aggravated by weeks of constant below-freezing temperatures that have prevented ice from melting, and from a region-wide shortage of rock salt.

Straddle carriers and other terminal equipment have been slowed by black ice, and many truck drivers have had to stop to have snow removed from roofs of containers, further delaying work.

Chassis shortages at some terminals have contributed to the delays. Motor carriers have been reluctant to send drivers with empty chassis to a congested terminal where a usable chassis may be unavailable for the import load.

Truckers report that some shippers are diverting boxes from distribution centers in central and southern New Jersey to Philadelphia, Baltimore or Virginia, but the diversions appear to be marginal. Norfolk also has been dealing with congestion this winter.

The continuing turmoil at New York-New Jersey has frayed nerves of drivers and terminal personnel. Owner-operator drivers have have been using smartphones to share Facebook photos and videos of long queues and stalled trucks.

Some frustrated drivers have have talked of parking their trucks and refusing assignments to the piers. However, any concerted action by owner-operators, who are independent contractors, would encounter legal obstacles under antitrust laws.

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com and follow him on Twitter at @JosephBonney.