Port of Oakland set all-time record for loaded containers in 2016

Export rally, rising imports boost volume 7.6 percent, offset terminal consolidation. Executive Director, Chris Lytle, will provide forecast in address this week

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Loaded shipping container volume reached an all-time high at the Port of Oakland in 2016. The port reports that it handled the equivalent of 1.83 million loaded Twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) last year.  That was up 7.6 percent from 2015, topping the previous record of 1.82 million 20-footers set in 2013.

Port spokesmen attributed the milestone to a year-long containerized export boom as well as growth in imports.  It said the record is important on two fronts:

Loaded container volume is a key measure used to calculate fees paid by Oakland’s marine terminal tenants.
Increased volume means the port gained, instead of lost business in 2016 though it consolidated five terminals into four.

Indeed, at this time last year, things appeared rather bleak for Oakland. As reported in LM, between Ports America and MSC subsidiary TIL, chose to cease operations and file for bankruptcy in early 2016 – the sixth year of its 50 year concession.

“Termination provisions of the concession agreement were atypically weak,” noted Emma Griffith, Director, Global Infrastructure & Project Finance for Fitch Ratings. “The concession provided the port with a sizable upfront payment but afforded limited recourse in the event OHT should terminate the agreement early.”

Ports America indicated that its withdrawal from Oakland was strategic, allowing a re-allocation of resources to its terminal operations at the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Tacoma. This is consistent with moves by carriers to reduce sizable capital costs, with shippers aggregating cargo onto larger vessels, which then call at fewer gateway ports.

But Oakland appears to have recovered, and may well be on its way to sustainable levels of outbound and inbound container throughput. Under the leadership of executive director, Chris Lytle, Oakland consolidated terminals to eliminate a capacity glut, then spread its subsequent volume increase among remaining terminals.

“This is a gratifying outcome,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll.  “The job now is clear – build on the momentum we created in 2016.”

Port spokesmen said its total 2016 volume equaled 2.37 million 20-foot containers, up 4 percent from 2015.  Total volume includes full and empty containers.

Containerized export volume jumped 10.5 percent in 2016, the Port said.  In December, exports were up 13.5 percent.  It was the fourth straight month of double-digit export growth.

Oakland import volume increased 4.7 percent last year, the Port said.  December imports were up 6.1 percent. The port said exports accounted for 52 percent of Oakland’s loaded container volume in 2016.  Imports accounted for the rest.

The port maintains that its 2016 goal was to protect cargo volume despite reducing the number of marine terminals. Beneficial cargo owners and other stakeholders will learn more about the 2017 goals when Lytle gives his annual “State of the Port” address, this Thursday, January 12.

About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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