Bone of Contention

Remember the story about the dog carrying a bone in his mouth while crossing a little bridge that straddled a brook? Seeing his reflection in the stream below, this greedy little dog, not satisfied with just the bone he had in his possession, wanted the bone reflected in the water as well and, of course, ended up with nothing.

The LA/Long Beach complex reached its capacity a long time ago but, like the greedy little dog, that complex wants to gobble up everything in sight. Even though excessive numbers of trucks and trains were causing traffic congestion and health problems for residents in nearby communities — life-threatening conditions that have aroused the ire of sensible people throughout the region — it just doesn’t seem to matter to those whose chief concern seems to be the corporate fanning of feathers.

Outsiders sensed that it was just a question of time before the bubble would burst in Southern California. Even a fourth-grader could sense it. Carriers, of course, should have realized it back in October of 2004 when their vessels were herded into Coast Guard ‘contingency anchorages’ just outside San Pedro Harbor, with the inevitable overflow then consigned to ‘drift boxes’. For weeks on end dozens of these overloaded and outsized ships could be seen treading water in these holding areas, with some vessels facing turnaround times as long as 10 days … at a time when operating expenses for these vessels were in the neighborhood of $ 40,000 per day!

Shipping lines had been boasting of their ability to forecast the increase in container numbers thus making it possible for them to introduce the appropriate amount of capacity to accommodate this growth. We weren’t buying that, however. If the shipping lines could predict exactly the rate of growth, we reasoned, and if the shipping lines could prepare in advance the amount of capacity required to accommodate this volume of shipping, and if the shipping lines own the major terminals in the U.S., and if the shipping lines, therefore, are in a position to make the necessary adjustments within these terminals to enable terminal operations to accommodate the increasing volumes … then why don’t the shipping lines step up to the plate and relieve the incredible pressures that are straining every link in our delicate supply chain? Why didn’t they, at least, avoid the $ 40,000-a-day ‘drift box’ consignments in the autumn of 2004?

With no regard for consequences, carriers had been hauling whatever Asia could turn out and delivering those goods to ports throughout the world that were already bursting at the seams. Port authorities who should have known better, but who also have no regard for consequences, have foolishly allowed these carriers to disgorge their cargos into their unmanageable terminals.

When a bucket is filled to the brim, however, nothing else can be forced into it. The California ports are now at that point. Compared to May of 2006, the LA/Long Beach complex and the Port of Oakland all reported decreases in containerized imports in May of this year. Seattle and the ports in Western Canada, on the other hand, have all reported noticeable increases, and word is out that the A.P. Moller-Maersk Group is considering Oregon’s Coos Bay (Coos Bay?) as a site for a new $ 700 million terminal. The shipping lines have finally decided to ‘Run to Daylight’.