A Ticking Clock

At the Los Angeles/Long Beach complex, where approximately 12 million TEU were handled last year, facilities for managing close to 33,000 TEU daily are required. At least those are the estimated numbers we get from the maritime journals. But things are not going very smoothly right now, and they’re about to get a lot worse. At the AAPA convention last week, Robert West of Global Insight noted that container trade will grow at twice the originally predicted rate of 4.3% next year.

Supposing … just supposing … that all containers were being hauled from those ports and no traffic tie-ups existed, in or outside the ports. Sounds like a perfect world. But let’s make that assumption for a moment. In such a situation nothing would hamper offloading operations, except for the lack of space within the ports. But let’s also suppose that operating space wasn’t a problem. If this dream could ever come true, then ships would be coming and going like clockwork.

Referring to the animated graphic in this website’s Method of Operation, note that the automated facility stores, retrieves and delivers 1920 TEU per day. At that rate, 17 of these structures would efficiently deal with the containers passing through. Note also that each 1920 TEU facility requires only 25 acres, including the delivery system. Instead of the several thousands of acres now being used at these ports, the patented systems, with dramatically simplified operational procedures, would require less than 425 acres. And ships would indeed be coming and going like clockwork.

These patented storage and retrieval systems will provide other benefits as well. Consider for a moment the impact that PostPanamax container ships will have upon our environment as well as our pocketbooks. Conrad Everhard, as moderator at the Port Industry Day symposium four years ago, reminded those in attendance that massive and costly dredging will be required in order to accommodate those giant vessels. He stated that public funding of these dredging programs amounted to a subsidy for those companies building those vessels. In support of this position, at a Capital Hill briefing sponsored by the AAPA in June of 2001, James Hartung advised that dredged deep-water ports used as hubs by these giant vessels in a hub-and-spoke system of operation would actually, “… decrease the efficiency of the marine transportation system and skew the economic benefits”.

On the other hand, when the 17 facilities described above are in operation, only small-to-medium sized vessels will be required for the annual 12 million TEU throughput. Let’s do the arithmetic. On a daily basis … and these are approximations … eight 3840 TEU ships plus one 1920 TEU ship would carry 32,640 TEU. Over the course of a year the number of TEU adds up to 11,913,600. That’s pretty close to the estimated 12 million TEU running through Los Angeles/Long Beach now. And how many vessels are backed up today because of the insurmountable problems within these terminal operations? 40? 50? 60? Wouldn’t the nine smaller vessels be a lot more manageable?

And Mr. West, recall, has just revealed that the forecasts have turned out to be too low again.