Murphy’s Law

Few of us can recall what our high school physics teachers were trying to teach us about Boyle’s Law, Faraday’s Law, Charles’ Law, or even Curie’s Law, but all of us can relate to Murphy’s Law. Mishaps at various times in our lives served to remind us that “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”, and bumper stickers nowadays have a different, more concise, way of reminding us of the inevitable. Bear this eventuality in mind, then think awhile about the serious problems that are developing in and around congested container ports. And don’t take our word for it. It’s what’s being discussed at every gathering of maritime officials. What was once considered to be a sturdy supply chain now seems to have turned into nothing stronger than a piece of frayed thread. Here’s a sampling:

“We estimate that more than 50,000 drivers — roughly one-third of the total — have left the profession since 2002. Inadequate income is the top cause.”
— Clark Brown, President, Bridge Terminal Transport Inc.

“Unity on the Waterfront!”… “Shorter Hours! Higher Pay! Lower Fuel Costs!”
— Teamster Posters at the Port of Miami

“These are the most exploited drivers in the United States. Not only are they low paid, they are forced to haul unsafe containers on unsafe trailers; they are forced to wait in line for hours creating a pollution hazard for themselves and the citizens of Miami; and they are forced to perform free work for the wealthy terminal operators as a condition of entering the terminals.”
— Chuck Mack, Teamsters International VP

“Rail and drayage are going to be a big problem this year … Where are those extra draymen going to come from?”
— James McKenna, President, Pacific Maritime Association

“The port activity is increasing truck traffic in all of Southern California and we will continue to see a significant increase.”
— Hasan Ikhrata, Planning and Policy Director, San Diego Association of Governments

“Our basic numbers suggest that freight traffic will double in about five years and double again five years after that … Trucks are increasing by percentage faster than our overall traffic. That is the thing we are all concerned about.”
— John Duve, San Diego Association of Government

“When Mexican trucks are allowed to service the big ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, that is where the big impact will come. You would see those trucks coming over the border to reach the ports and making the return trip.”
— Stephanie Williams, Senior VP, California Trucking Association

“The goal is to keep the cargo moving through the West Coast, but I can’t put the equipment there. I can’t put the infrastructure there … Nobody could expect last year’s surge of cargo … A wave has crested over this industry.”
— James Spinosa, President, International Longshore and Warehouse Union

“I think 2005 will be the year of infrastructure … We can’t divert our way out of this.”
— Doug Tilden, Chief Executive, Marine Terminals Corp.

“It is, in my opinion, a national crisis … The real problem is infrastructure. When we talk about infrastructure, you better be worried,”
— Philip Connors, Executive VP, Maersk Sealand

“There has been no productivity improvement so far.”
— Jon Hemingway, President, SSA Marine

“Difficulties will exist for some time on the West Coast”
— Ron Widdows, Chief Executive, APL Ltd.

“Heavy use over the past year may be to blame for a series of structural disorders found in 8 of 10 cranes at the APM terminal on the Port of Los Angeles’ new Pier 400. Stress cracks — some as long as 23 cm — were found last week by crane operators, and union workers immediately ceased using the super post-Panamax equipment, virtually shutting down the waterside of the Maersk facility.”
— “Fairplay Daily News of 01 March 2005″

“Congestion is bound to fuel cost rises, which will translate into higher freight rates. It’s even possible that manufacturers could start looking to local production or regional sourcing in order to get around relying on ports.”
— Mark Page, Director of research, Drewry Shipping Consultants

“There is a pressing need for carriers, terminal operators and land transport companies to work more closely together … Likewise, there is a need for closer coordination between industry, governments and other interested parties to ensure that much needed infrastructure construction is not unduly delayed … Globalization has increased world trade, and will continue to drive it relentlessly.”
— David Lim, President, NOL Group

“The trade from China, and Asia, is so large and so sure to continue large that it presents a great opportunity for Canadian transportation. We want to help the Port of Vancouver and that area to compete for that trade, and very much to support the potential for containers at Prince Rupert (B.C.).
— Jean Lapierre, Federal Transport Minister, Canada

“If all the economic forecasts are on-stream, and I believe they will be, there will be ten gateways on the West Coast … The way China has been centralized as the manufacturing center of the world, all of these infrastructures throughout the world will have to be improved, or we will see inflation like you can’t believe.”
— Wilson Lacy, Director of Maritime, Port of Oakland

[“Inflation” as a result of increasing volumes at the LA/Long Beach complex is a gimme. You better believe it. Mr. Lacy, no doubt, was considering a report appearing in ‘Fairplay’, a Lloyd’s Register publication. It was titled, “LA/LB Considers Air Pollution Cuts”, and it reads as follows:

“A preliminary plan to cut air pollution at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was unanimously approved yesterday. The plan was approved by a task force consisting of representatives from the shipping industry, railroads, air regulatory agencies and other groups. During a two-day meeting, the group formulated an initial plan consisting of dozens of proposed air-cleaning methods including; cold-ironing for berthed vessels, low-sulphur fuels for ships and trains, and subsidizing the purchase of cleaner-burning trucks. However the task force, which was created by Los Angeles mayor Jim Hahn last summer to find ways to curb port pollution, still needs to study costs of the measures and how they can be implemented. A final plan incorporating costs and legal steps is expected to be presented to Hahn’s office this spring. — ”

The proposed solutions we’re been hearing about with respect to terminal congestion, infrastructure, labor, productivity, etc., etc. are all academic. The real bugaboo is air pollution and the “costs of the measures”needed for the implementation of those suggested measures. These costs, like all costs, would become an unacceptable add-on for the consumers/taxpayers {we talked about that last week} and the entire system would require revision. It all boils down to supply-and-demand.]

“Our harbor board has specifically set a policy to prevent the community from being exposed to the harmful effects of port activity. It’s more than words.”
— Robert Kanter, Planning Director, Port of Long Beach

“Two thousand five will be the year we either see substantial progress, or decades of litigation over how to control pollution at this expanding source. I hope it’s the former … We are, in fact, subsidizing people in Wyoming who want to wear T-shirts from China through our increased health and transportation costs.”
— Gail Ruderman Feuer, Natural Resource Defense Council’s Southern Cal. air pollution program

“Moving trade through the state creates jobs, business profits, and considerable tax revenue, but it also carries costs such as increased congestion, pollution, and wear and tear on infrastructure.”
— Jon Haveman, Research Fellow, Public Policy Institute

“We want a healthy economy and good jobs, but it doesn’t do us any good if we’re killing ourselves. One hundred percent of the air we breathe is contaminated with man-made pollution … It’s up to the state to make sure we have a date when we become sustainable. I would expect in the next six to 12 months we need a plan to get our air quality under control.”
— Terry Tamminen, Governor’s Cabinet Secretary

“We’ve been constantly hearing from the industry that we need more time to study this. We’ve been doing this for years. We need to resolve to act, and act expeditiously.”
— Todd Campbell, LA Coalition for Clean Air

[Murphy (wherever he is) is ready to drop the other shoe.]