Port of Oakland

Fewer container ships would likely mean less cargo at the Port of Oakland this spring, according to Oakland maritime officials, who were speaking the Harbor Trucking Association last week.

The port told freight haulers via video conference that 20 May and June voyages to Oakland have been scrubbed, with the result a potential 5 to 15 per cent drop in containerised cargo volume heading into summer.

“It’s a clouded picture,” said Port of Oakland business development manager Andrew Hwang. “About 10 per cent of our scheduled vessel arrivals have been cancelled by shipping lines, but we don’t know if that will translate into a similar drop in volume.”

The port blamed vessel cancellations on the coronavirus pandemic which has stunted global trade.

With consumer spending down, it said, there was less merchandise to load onto ships, meaning fewer vessels needed between Asia and US ports.

Import volume is expected to suffer the biggest cargo decline in coming months, the port noted.

Demand for Oakland exports remains strong, but voyage cancelations could place some markets beyond reach, the Port explained. Fruit, nut and meat exports are particularly coveted by overseas trading partners, especially in Asia, the Port said. It added that Oakland exports to South Korea increased 31 percent last month, and to Japan,18 percent.

The Port said cargo is moving smoothly through Oakland. There are no shortages of labor or equipment, it added.

The Port cautioned, however, that the coronavirus pandemic could permanently alter container transportation practices. Shipping lines may consolidate more cargo on bigger ships while reducing the frequency of voyages, the Port said.

Supply chains could be altered, too, the Port said. For example, the online purchasing explosion prompted by shelter-in-place orders may hasten distribution center reconfiguration or consolidation. Distribution hubs could be relocated to more central locations to serve population centers from fewer outlets.

“We’ll be facing a new normal,” said Hwang. “Distribution patterns will change…it won’t be like it was.'