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What Ports Need to Attract Mega-Ships

Written by Bill Mongelluzzo, Senior Editor JOC

LONG BEACH, Calif. — As North American container ports compete fiercely for market share, it’s becoming clear that the winners will be those that reliably and efficiently handle mega-ships on the water and land side of the berths.

“Shippers want consistency, reliability and service at a low cost,” Alan McCorkle, senior vice president of APM Terminals in Los Angeles, told a port competitiveness town hall meeting at California State University in Long Beach. “If we can do that, we will get our cargo back,” McCorkle told a May 15 seminar focusing on how Los Angeles-Long Beach can regain market share lost in recent years to ports on the U.S. East Coast and Canada’s Pacific coast.

Mega-ships capable of carrying 8,000 to 10,000 20-foot-equivalent container units are common on the West Coast, and will be more evident this year on the East Coast as carriers such as Maersk Line and members of the G6 alliance increase all-water services from Asia through the Suez Canal. Long Beach already is handling 13,000-TEU vessels.

Of course, when the Panama Canal expansion is complete in 2015, carriers will expand their use of mega-ships on all-water services to the East Coast.

Anticipating vessels of 13,000 to possibly 15,000 TEUs will one day be common in Los Angeles-Long Beach, McCorkle said carriers expect marine terminals to turn around the really big vessels in six work shifts, just as the 8,000-TEU vessels are today.

Terminals will have to increase the number of longshore gangs assigned to each vessel, and will likely have to increase the number of cranes alongside the vessels to eight or nine, from six or seven today. The standard for crane productivity, which is nearly 30 moves per crane per hour, will increase to 35, he said.

Vessels calling in the Southern California gateway have high discharge rates because of the large local population and extensive intermodal rail connections to the eastern half of the country. A vessel that discharges 4,000 to 5,000 40-foot containers places significant strain on the yard and gate operations. “This makes the land side of the operation even more critical,” said Vic La Rosa, president and CEO of harbor trucking company TTSI.

La Rosa and McCorkle agreed that processing trucks in and out of the gates is container terminals’ Achilles’ heel, with too many transactions taking two to three hours. “Three-hour turn time — who wants to drive that truck?” McCorkle said.

Beneficial cargo owners and truckers, however, also must assume responsibility for unnecessarily long truck visits to the terminals, La Rosa said. Truck dispatchers could mitigate the problem by making sure cargo clears Customs and is ready to leave before they send trucks to terminal. “Not everyone does it,” he said.

BCOs, working with their customs brokers, must do their part by filing accurate documentation in advance of vessel arrival with government agencies such as Customs and Border Protection, said Jeff Coppersmith, president of Coppersmith Global Logistics. The electronic sharing of cargo information among members of the supply chain will help to ensure trucks are sent to the harbor only after the cargo has been cleared, he said.

Despite the anguish in Southern California over loss of market share in recent years, the surge of mega-ships calling in North America has given Los Angeles and Long Beach a unique opportunity to regain cargo because the ports already have invested the billions of dollars in harbor deepening and terminal expansion that East Coast ports still face, La Rosa said. “I would not panic,” he said. “ Cargo is going to come here.”

Contact Bill Mongelluzzo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and follow him at twitter.com/billmongelluzzo.

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