by Ray Dykes

Collaboration, co-operation, alliance — these are all words and actions major North American West Coast ports would have shuddered to even think about a few years ago.

Today, they are the stark reality for survival in the highly competitive life of a port on the West Coast, especially the major ones. Several have formed alliances or co-operative agreements and even a merger as a new world of maritime trade unfolds.

“What a lot of folks had said would never happen now is happening,” was how Port of Seattle Commissioner, Bill Bryant described it at a joint Tacoma–Seattle port commission meeting in June where the two former rival Washington State ports formed a Northwest Seaport Alliance to link their operations and better compete with ports in Canada, Mexico, the East Coast of the United States, and Southern California.

For the first time, the operations statistics of the two neighbouring ports are now being reported as one.

Some have seen the light because the reputation of West Coast ports took a black eye over spiralling turnaround times for container vessels over trucking and other waterfront labour disputes. Those recent cargo delays at 29 West Coast ports as negotiations for a new five-year labour contract now in effect has put many ports in a hurry up mode as they scramble to reduce wait times.  

So far, Los Angeles and Long Beach, and Seattle and Tacoma have decided it makes sense to work together more than ever before.

Los Angeles and Long Beach are collaborating in plans to reduce congestion around the waterfront and are planning to “facilitate at the highest level improvements to the supply chain,” according to the Port of Long Beach’s new senior executive for supply chain management, Michael Christensen.

The collaboration was approved by the Federal Maritime Commission earlier this year after strikes and other transportation troubles caused serious delays at both ports, which champion container movements. Together the ports are spending US$3.7 billion to boost capacity and untangle the backups that keep ships waiting in the San Pedro Bay and trucks idling on land. Remote-controlled cranes and driverless trucks are also being introduced at various terminals.

Port Metro Vancouver in Canada saw the light in 2008 when it combined the port activities of two Fraser River port authorities in with the Port of Vancouver, a move which has helped the port to back-to-back record throughput levels in recent years as the busiest on the West Coast.

Here’s Dry Cargo International’s annual review of how West Coast North American ports fared in 2014 and in 2015 year to date.  


The competition for cargo is intense today, even before the opening of the expanded Panama Canal and all competitors from Mexico to Canada are taken seriously, says Director of Media Relations, Phillip Sanfield.

The Port of Los Angeles — “the premier North American trade gateway” — is working hard through infrastructure investments to keep that title, and by optimizing the San Pedro Bay complex supply chain with collaboration from the Port of Long Beach and “direct interactions with our customers.”

As years go, 2014 was more of the same for the Port of Los Angeles with total throughput of 50.8mt (million tonnes), in a port that relies heavily on container movements. Some 43mt came from container traffic, which was up 1.3%, while bulk movements totalled almost 8mt.

Both San Pedro Bay ports have been battling congestion, growing wait times and labour troubles, but with a new waterfront contract, things are hopefully going to get better.

There are plenty of improvements underway. TraPac is expanding its wharves to 4,600 linear feet in a five-year $510 million project that will also deepen water depth, install new cranes, upgrade 50 acres of backlands, make road and truck gate improvements, and build a new on-dock rail facility.

Transportation access is also being upgraded to port facilities in a $83 million programme that attempts to keep port traffic off major roadways. Yusen Terminals has been given approval to deepen and improve its facilities in a $49 million project expected to begin this summer.

As for the environment, the port has set records with its diesel particulate matter down 80%, nitrogen oxides down 57% and sulphur oxides down 90% so far after eight years of ‘aggressive air measures’.


With a year when 82.3mt of freight was handled, the Port of Long Beach can be proud of a tough but rewarding 2014, given it moved 64.1mt in 2013. Containers continued to lead the way, accounting for 42mt of the total, followed by petroleum at 31mt, dry bulk at 8.7mt and breakbulk at 1.5mt.

Year to date figures through the end of April 2015 show the port running at an annualized rate of about of near 80mt with most sectors showing steady progress.

Shipping alliances by the major container movers have made it more difficult than ever to sort and distribute cargo at port terminals around the world, but like others, the Port of Long Beach is beginning to adjust,” says Assistant Director of Communications, Art Wong. The move by Long Beach to join the Port of Los Angeles investing in new technologies and operating practices “to further improve velocity” should also help in the future.

Long Beach is in the middle of a decade-long US$4 billion capital improvement programme which will see about $600 million spent over the next 12 months. Key projects include the $1.3 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement now at the columns stage; and the first phase of the Middle Harbour project — the most technologically advanced container terminal in North America — due to be operational early next year with its remotely-controlled cranes and driverless trucks designed to lift capacity to 1.7 million TEUs a year.

Mitsubishi has received approval to expand its import cement handling facility from 4.21 to 5.92 acres, providing it can meet environmental measures and upgrades.

Long Beach is also celebrating the 10th anniversary of its 

Green Port Policy, which has so far reduced diesel emissions by a much-higher-than-expected 82%, and has pledged to continue to explore new technologies to achieve zero emissions.


They’re not losing any sleep in the Californian Port of Oakland over the impending opening of the expanded Panama Canal next April. Director of Maritime, John Driscoll, has fielded the question before and has four main reasons for claiming most cargo from Asia will continue to choose US West Coast ports as their gateway:


  • cost: it’s cheaper to ship through West Coast ports over East Coast Ports (via the Panama Canal) thanks to lower inventory holding costs and lower ocean rates;
  • transit times: it takes ten days longer to reach the US via the canal from Asia;
  • supporting infrastructure: significant on-dock rail, warehousing and transload facilities are already in place on the West Coast; and
  • big ship capabilities: East Coast ports are not all equipped or experienced in handling the new generation of megaships The Port of Oakland shipped 14.6mt in 2014, but seems to


be limping somewhat this year through five months at 4.7mt or an annualized rate of 11.25mt. Things will change as the port is amid a US$1 billion capital upgrade to boost logistic capabilities near the dock. These projects include a rail transload for grain; two cold storage and transload facilities; a phased 73-hectare development of further industrial facilities to speed cargo through the port; 13 new intermodal yards or various types; and other infrastructure improvements.

There’s even a plan by the State of Utah to invest $53 million in a new Oakland coal export terminal on the former Oakland Army Base lands. Terminal Logistics expects to start building a 35-acre $250 million Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal at the Oakland Global Trade & Logistics Centre outside the Port of Oakland later this year for completion in 2017.

On the environmental front, the Port of Oakland has reduced seaport-related diesel emissions by over 70% to date and aims to have an 85% reduction by 2020 with measures such as the retirement of older trucks and by offering shore power.


There’s no concern in the Port of Portland over the impending opening of the expanded Panama Canal, largely because like most West Coast ports it has the advantage of being closer to China and other Asian markets.

In 2014, Portland moved 11.7mt of freight, led by grain from the Pacific Northwest, and mineral bulks such as potash from across the border in Saskatchewan and soda ash from Wyoming.The news is more sombre year-to-date to the end of April largely through a softening in the grain market for US exports, and the final withdrawal of Hanjin Shipping from the port as of early March, which total throughput down by over 25%.

Significant private investment is being made at a variety of marine facilities on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers and has totalled over US$500 million in recent years.

The port is working on three initiatives with its stakeholders as interim solutions to get their goods to and from global markets efficiently until a new container service is found for the vacated Terminal 6. The port and the Terminal 6 operator ICTSI are scouring the globe for a new container service to Asia, Europe and Latin America, a ‘complex challenge’ that will likely require the collaboration of the port, the terminal operator, shipper and longshore labour.

Canpotex Limited is meanwhile spending up to $140 million in new equipment such as a shiploader and conveyors plus other infrastructure at the port’s Terminal 5, which has helped make Portland the largest gateway on the US West Coast for bulk mineral exports such as potash.


No matter what happens with the Panama Canal in future years, Port Vancouver USA — across the Columbia River from the Port of Portland — already feels it has a significant freight advantage.

No wonder the Washington State river port had the biggest throughput year in its 103-year history in 2014 at 6.6mt and that was up 47% over 2013. Big increases in grain exports, especially corn and soybeans but also wheat; and steel and wind energy imports boosted the total. Subaru of America had its best year ever importing over 81,000 vehicles from Japan. The combined port-wide surge saw a 35% increase in vessels to total 452 last year.

With over 600 acres of ready-to-build lands available for development, Port Vancouver isn’t saddled with the lack of industrial land that is hounding others on the West Coast. One land block called Columbia Gateway offers 530 acres with deep- water marine access.

One of the most significant investments in recent years has been the West Vancouver Freight Access Project, which will be completed next year. Some US$275 million has been spent over a decade to improve rail movement through the port, tripling the rail capacity in the process.


The proposed Northwest Seaport Alliance awaits approval from the Federal Maritime Commission, but both Seattle and Tacoma

see it as the competitive answer to battling competition anywhere and everywhere in the future.

If the alliance goes through as expected it will bring a phased introduction this summer and connect the two ports operations making them into the third-largest US container port and hopefully help arrest a decline in container traffic over recent years.

The pair shipped a combined 35.1mt in 2014 including containers, bulk, autos, grain, gypsum, logs, petroleum, and molasses and was slightly behind that pace through May 2015 at 12.9mt.

Capital works in Tacoma include upgrades to the Husky Terminal; and strengthening Pier 3 and realigning Pier 4 to create continuous 3,000ft berth that can handle two megaships at the same time. In Seattle,Terminal 5 is being improved to allow it to also handle two megaships at once.

These two Pacific Northwest ports in Washington continue to feel the pain from Canadian competition, noting Canada is pouring billions of dollars into a national freight strategy,“and they are winning,” says Tara Mattina, Communications Director at the Port of Tacoma. The Alliance also claims the US needs a similar approach to attracting more cargo and blames the national Harbour Maintenance Tax for putting the two Washington ports at a disadvantage through extra TEU costs that “don’t hit cargo going through Canada.”


Easily the biggest mover of freight of all kinds on the North American West Coast at almost 140mt in 2014, Port Metro Vancouver’s growing throughput was led once again by shipments of coal, then forest products, grain, fertilizers, and chemicals and minerals. Containers reached 2.9 million TEUs and that was up 3%.

There’s no sign of any slackening off after two back-to-back record years and at the end of April the pace was unrelenting at just under 46mt.

Port Metro Vancouver President & CEO, Robin Silvester, noted three major challenges when speaking at the recent Annual General Meeting of the port — a shortage of industrial land in the Greater Vancouver area; the port’s relationship with 

its 16 surrounding municipalities where Canada’s trade interests “don’t always jive with the way each municipality sees itself evolving”; and concerns over the prevention and protection against oil spills and after a recent minor spill in the harbour he says “you can rest assured we are taking a firm stance on the need for improvements.”

Vancouver serves the Canada Pacific Gateway and much of its container business is destined for eastern Canada — mainly the Toronto-Montreal market. The port has a Container Capacity Improvement Program to help meet an expected doubling of box traffic over the next 10–15 years — an estimate “supported by growth in retail trade and consumer confidence in North America.”

Recently, Port Metro pushed on with its Roberts Bank Terminal 2 container terminal project, submitting a comprehensive environmental impact statement which was four years in the making. It will now be given federal environmental assessment.

If it goes ahead in the Outer Harbour at Roberts Bank, the new three-berth container terminal will add another 2.4 million TEUs of container capacity. Subject to regulatory approvals and permits, market conditions and a final investment decision, construction could begin in 2018 with completion in about 2023.

Other major projects include a massive new grain terminal proposed to replace the existing Lynnterm West Gate break bulk facility in North Vancouver, which is now in its feasibility stage. Lynnterm owners Western Stevedoring are partnering with Manitoba-based G3 Global Holdings for what will be the largest grain terminal built in Vancouver since the 1960s and capable of handling about 6mt of grains a year.

On the Fraser River in Port Metro, a liquefied natural gas facility has been granted an export licence by the National Energy Board of Canada, which would keep up to 120 LNG tankers busy a year with exports of about 4.76 billion cubic metres. Westpac Midstream, based in California, says the $400 million liquefaction plant is being built by FortisBC on land it owns. A docking facility is undergoing a BC environmental assessment. 

Just up river, Fraser Surrey Docks has amended a plan to barge US coal down river to Texada Island in the Strait of Georgia and is now seeking permission to bring Panamax vessels to the dock instead for annual shipments of about 4mt. The facility is seeking Port Metro approval.


Speed and reliability make up the winning package from this BC port. As the shortest trade route with Asia from North America, Prince Rupert isn’t worried by the Panama Canal growth or much else. The canal isn’t a viable option to what the port can offer and the shipping alliances, which bring efficiencies and greater market power sharing services they could not support independently on their own, will create even more opportunities for a port like Prince Rupert, says Michael Gurney, Manager of Communications.

Overall tonnage dropped in 2014 from 23mt to 20.7mt for the port yet it had large pockets of growth particularly in container movements. Tough times for the coal industry and the port’s major bulk outlet — Ridley Terminals — saw low volumes again in the first five months of 2015, yet the port’s Fairview Container Terminal jumped its box movements almost 43% to 325,963 TEUs. Barley and canola shipments also increased by 50% YTD and the new Westview Wood Pellet Terminal, which completed its first year in 2014, has shipped over 252,000 tonnes already in the first five months of 2015.

Fairview has begun its Phase 2 expansion, which will lift terminal capacity by 500,000 TEUs with the addition of a second deep-sea berth, four new gantry cranes, and an expanded container yard. The project is due for completion in mid-2017.

And the completion of a $90 million road and rail utility corridor last May — a two-lane roadway and five rail tracks along a port-owned power distribution system along an eight kilometre corridor — is expected to attract new port shippers of potash, LNG and other Canadian products.

Now if only coal shipments picked up again overall throughput would truly start to rise year over year. 


Port of Stockton benefits from construction growth with record-breaking 2014 

Located in the fertile San Joaquin Valley, the Port of Stockton boasts first class warehouse storage and handling facilities for both dry and liquid bulk materials, facilities and equipment to handle breakbulk and containerized cargoes by land or sea.

Situated in the hub of four major freeways, two transcontinental railroads, an international waterway and a regional airport, the Port of Stockton is centrally located to provide the optimum service for shipment and storage of product and cargo.

All of these components place the port in an ideal position for domestic and international distribution. The Port of Stockton’s main customers are primarily bulk fertilizer and steel importers, as well as sulphur and coal exporters.

The port’s growing list of assets includes: its strategic location, the port’s ability to build facilities on its 4,000 acres, the availability of seven million square feet of covered storage, as well as the deepwater channel which provides easy access for the big ships and the goods they carry to the port.

“We have several miles of railroad track, and many different projects and increased ship numbers have come to the port over the last four to five years,” said Port Director Richard Aschieris.

The design draught of the Stockton Ship Channel is 10.60 metres at MLW. The port is able to handle vessels of up to Panamax size, partially loaded. With over 7 million square feet of covered storage on site, the storage capacity at the Port of Stockton is virtually unlimited.

Surrounded by, and adjacent to, four major highways, the Port of Stockton provides excellent over-the-road connectivity. Also, the port’s 70+ miles of industry track is serviced by both the Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.


Port officials reported handling 230 ships for the full year, a surprising increase of more than 25% from the previous record 182 ships set in 2012. It is also up from the 181 ship visits tallied in 2013.

While shipping activity increased in most cargo categories,Aschieris said that steel imports made the biggest difference.

“We are seeing a lot more steel activity in the past year, which is probably a reflection of more construction work in the public works sector or the private sector,” he said.

Another measure of 2014 shipping activity at the inland port, cargo totals measured in metric tonnes — a metric tonne is slightly heavier than 2,200 pounds — showed a strong gain to 4.1mt (million metric tonnes), up from 3mt in 2013.

While not a record, it was the largest cargo tonnage recorded at the port since 2005, when shippers moved 6.5mt across the Stockton docks.

“That year the port received more than 2.1mt in bulk cement,” Aschieris said.

The volume of cement fell to near zero in ensuing years due to the collapse of the US construction industry and Great Recession.

Unlike the nation’s largest ports, which primarily handle cargo packed into the ubiquitous steel shipping containers, the Port of Stockton specializes in so-called bulk cargo, dry and liquid materials such as grain, sulphur pellets, coal, molasses, vegetable oil, bagged rice, finished steel and oversized equipment.

“The port handled commodities worth an estimated $1.5 billion in  2014,” Aschieris told business leaders in January. “Ninety percent of the fertilizer used in San Joaquin County comes through the port, and the number of ship arrivals reached an all- time high of 230 in addition to the 52 barges docking at the port, the highest number since 1978 when the tracking of arrivals began.”

Aschieris looks for shipping activity to continue to increase this year as the economy continues to improve and the port receives additional shipments of an new cargo, extra-long steel for Union Pacific Railroad Co.’s new rail welding facility in Stockton.

Mark Tollini, senior deputy port director for trade and operations, said the movement of steel through the port in 2014 was twice as large as 2013. He’s confident 2015 will be even better. So far in 2015, 133 vessels have called at the port, and two barges. Total ship tonnage is 2,173,863 tonnes, and barge tonnage is 11,570 tonnes, for an overall total of 2,185,433 tonnes.

“We’re seeing big cargo mixes with a marked increase in steel products which indicates that construction projects are under way in the San Joaquin Valley,” Tollini said. “Imported cements are coming back in. We expect the tonnage to continue increasing into 2016.”

One port facility that is unique when construction is completed in early March is Union Pacific Railroad’s $18 million ribbon rail welding facility. Thirty workers have been building the facility near the West Complex, which has its own electrical supply, perfect for welding and its high peak power demand.

The facility features 17,000 feet of track, a rail storage yard, a welding and inspection building, extra milling capacity and a gantry crane for off-loading 480ft-long bundles of steel rail from Japan. The rail welding facility is fully operational with the exception of the 17,000 lineal foot railroad staging yard which will be completed by the end of summer.

Tollini said the thrice welded, 1,920 lengths of rail will be able to carry Gov. Brown’s bullet train and all regular rail traffic as well. “It’s the largest single piece of rail assembly in the world.”

In December last year, a test shipment of 10,000 tonnes of the 480ft rails arrived at the port aboard the Pacific Spike, a ship designed specifically to carry the long rails from Japan to Stockton. The ship is equipped with three built-in 50-tonne cranes that carefully lift the rails in bundles of five from the hold directly onto specially built railcars on the dock beside the ship. For welding, the rails are pushed into tiers of racks which hold them in place during the welding process.

“Our on-dock rail allows the ships to discharge directly onto the shuttle cars,” Tollini said. “Stockton’s the only port in the US receiving this cargo and delivering it from ship to rail in this way. This is the first time this sort of cargo has been discharged from a ship using these types of cranes.”

The rail will be used to replace Union Pacific track and for other UP projects and expansions along the west coast.

Tollini confirmed that the annual financial benefit to the port from the ribbon-rail welding facility will be about $2 million,

“[It’s] additional revenue that we wouldn’t otherwise have had,” he said. It is expected the additional revenue will come from maritime service fees, land lease rents and port electric utility charges. The current lease is for ten years with eight options to extend the contract for five years each.

“We expect this welding operation to be here for quite some time, for the foreseeable future, certainly,” said Tollini.

He added, “We can take on more business, more rail space is available, and we’re looking forward to what the future holds for the port of Stockton.” Mark Tollini’s 41-year career in port service will be coming to an end at the end of this calendar year, when he will embark upon a well-deserved retirement.


The Port of Stockton is dedicated to protecting the environment from the potentially harmful effects of shipping. It has therefore implemented a range of programmes to ensure that environmental protection remains at the forefront of its activities.

Air Quality Program

The City of Stockton is located in San Joaquin County, which has been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a ‘non-attainment’ area for several air pollutants e.g. particulate matter, ozone. In general terms, this means that the air quality in San Joaquin County is poor and the air is not clean enough to meet certain air quality standards set forth by the EPA. While much of this pollution is generated by farming, agriculture and automobiles, the maritime industry can be a source of pollutants as well. An estimated one-third of vessel emissions occur while they are at berth. While docked at the Port of Stockton, vessels are required to shut off their main engines and use auxiliary diesel and steam engines to power refrigeration, lights, pumps and other functions.

As part of the Air Quality Program, the port continuously looks for ways to reduce air emissions resulting from its operations. One example of how the port reduces emissions is by replacing its dockside equipment with newer, clear-burning equipment. Through education and outreach to tenants and vessel operators, the port encourages proper maintenance, operational controls and use of alternative fuels.

Water Quality Program

Industrial and maritime activities at the Port of Stockton have the potential to produce many types of pollutants and the port goes to great lengths to prevent them from reaching the surrounding waterways. Over the past five years, the Port of Stockton has spent more than $5 million on storm water programmes alone. The following outlines just a part of the tremendous effort the Port puts forth to protect and improve water quality.