Investigation: West Coast Ports Logistical Nightmare

Serious logistical issues that have a impact on our economy is fear that has grown during the Covid19 pandemic. Information about this crisis is spread across numerous disconnected articles. This is an attempt to bring sourced information together to give a picture of what is happening. This is not a exhaustive list and further investigation is recommended.

Issues Around Ports

Ports and shipping are a crucial part of the national economy and by extension North American life. It is immense effort that has numerous actors that goes well beyond the shipping companies and the ports themselves. As it may be expected for something so important for a nation the government has a large role. A quote from the government itself helps give perspective for how complicated and large its involvement has become.

“While the Federal role and mission in support of a stronger maritime nation is shared among the more than 25 agencies and directorates…” -U.S. Department of Transportation 1U.S. Department of Transportation (2020), Goals and Objectives for a Stronger Maritime Nation: A Report to Congress, Washington, D.C., 17

The West Coast of the North America is critical for US trade. With large scale importation of goods from China it has been bedrock of the wider economy. Exports of agricultural products also leave Western ports bound for Asian markets. This region is of particular importance for the basic function of North America and eastern ports would unsuitable to take demand due to large travel times and lack of infrastructure.

Without a large change to the North American economy and the global economy the ports in the West Coast are crucial for modern life.

Current Status Of Overwhelmed Western Ports

Port of Seattle and Tacoma (The Northwest Seaport Alliance)

According to a interview with Dick Marzano (Tacoma Port Commissioner and Co Chair of NorthWest Seaport Alliance) by the Seattle Times stated that both ports are stuck with congestion and that harbors not normally used have been activated. Those harbors being Holmes Island and Whidbey Island. Mr Marzano believed that this congestion would continue to 2022. Also mentioned is the lack of rail cars. 2

The amount of cargo that is coming into both these ports is steadily increasing. However this should be expected as a large amount of resources have been devoted to boost traffic. It is also likely that this surge is due to the situation in other Western ports. The volume processed grew by 38.4% in May when compared to the year before. 3

The details of what is happening in both these major ports is hard to research. This is due to the news being full of two major stories about these ports. The first is about the suspension of the Cruise industry to Alaska due to Covid19 concerns. 4 Also the numerous climate policies that the port has steadily announced during Covid19. It is interesting to focus on the climate emergency and not the logistical issues.

Some sources have claimed the area has not been impacted. This is a false claim. Other harbors not normally used have activated due to the backlog in this area. 5

Port of Vancouver

An increase of cargo to this port has occurred although recent data is hard to source. A 1% to 2% increase of the total has occurred, although other sources state a larger increase. 6 Some have claimed that this port has handled the issues well but this is likely due to reduced demand when compared to other ports. Despite this good news there are serious problems that are developing in the port of Vancouver.

A container shortage that was a problem for the port has continued and got worse. This could imply that the importation demand that is hitting other ports is not for whatever reason making its way to this location. As a export port it seems that Vancouver has been hit with a reduction of exports. East Coast ports have no real ability to assist anymore for these exporting challenges.7

The situation in the port seems strange and likely is complicated by the goods that normally are exported from this port.

Port of Prince Rupet

This port appears to have interesting statistics when you look into the data. It initially appears that total amount of cargo in has dropped when compared to 2020. This could be due to a massive increase in 2020 or new construction. Especially notable is the fact that the harbor section has seen a dramatic increase from 2020. Yet other terminals and the total have seen a drop. This could be due to limitations of some areas or specialization for some types of cargo. 8 The port already was having serious work done to increase capacity so demand could have been handled by that.

Ports in California

These have been highlighted by the media and focused upon. A growing backlog is well documented. The exact number of ships currently prevented from docking changes depending on the source. Ports in California handle a large amount of cargo from China. Resources in other Western ports are not as built up as the ones in these ports and demand normally goes through it. The California’s population has large consumer base but much of the goods flow outward from California across the United States. 9 If you are looking for more information on this numerous mainstream sources have covered it. Just search for the backlog and you will find sources.

Other Ports On West Coast

Other ports exist on the West coast but this covers the major ones. It is likely that some of the surge is being directed to these ports to try and help the major ones. Yet there is limitations in how useful that can be with how modern shipping is conducted. The aim of this article is to highlight that issue is not exclusive to just California no matter how much they may wish you to believe that.