A Familiar Ring

Let’s hope that the OECD WORKSHOP ON MARITIME TRANSPORT was the catalyst needed to get things moving in the right direction. The most important piece of news generated at that meeting was the attention given to the inability of anyone, anywhere, to deal with congestion. It seemed that most of the port officials around the world, and especially those in the U.S. according to Mr. Carlton, felt that congestion and delays were a critical issue only at their port but just an occasional concern at other points in the supply chain. U.S. port officials should have known better. Time and time again warnings were issued by the most prominent men in the maritime world, and although most of the caution flags were about U.S. operational stumbling blocks, the international scene was being closely scrutinized by a number of highly placed and responsible shipping authorities. When one reads between the lines it becomes obvious that logjams are a worldwide bugaboo, and that the brightest minds in the industry are desperately looking to get over, or around, the hurdle. But all avenues have led to a dead end.

The extent of this congestion was made clear just last month when Ron Widdows, in an address to the Textile and Apparel Trade and Transportation Conference, openly criticized port officials for failing to understand the adverse effects that inadequate terminal operations are having on carriers. He clearly stated in that address that port and rail congestion here and in foreign ports as well are threatening world trade. “The problems of inadequate terminals capabilities are global and will be with us for years”, he said. Could he have said it more clearly? He even emphasized the point by citing the stress being placed upon the delivery capabilities at nearly all major load centers worldwide, with the UK and France especially burdened. Mr. Widdows identified the infrastructure problems as the factor causing the congestion and delays here in the U.S. and throughout the worldwide transportation chain, and as a result he has spent much of his time, along with so many others, searching for solutions. More dead ends.

Congestion affects every port of significance. The Kingston Container Terminal in the Port of Jamaica is one of the region’s busiest transshipment ports, but last Tuesday’s OBSERVER reported that congestion prevented the prompt servicing of Christmas cargo. The circumstances at the port and the comments by those affected have a very familiar ring:
• The port director’s solution for immediate relief was to extend the port’s operational hours and implement an appointment system for cargo collection.
• The president of the Customs Brokers Association said, “The measures are long-term and are not measures to deal with the situation as it is now.”
• A large retailer took issue with the port authority’s casual approach, saying, “I don’t think they understand the severity of it and the impact on the economy”.
• An executive of the Port Haulage Association said the backlog has cut haulage volume by almost 50%. “This is due to the fact that it takes three to four hours to get a container that is most times lost because of the congestion on the wharf.”

If Doug Tilden had been there, he’d have said: “We have to find a different way to operate.”