The September issue of the MARINE DIGEST & CARGO BUSINESS NEWS featured an analysis by Tony Seideman. Mr. Seideman’s final paragraph in his “Piercing the myths” article summarized his observations quite accurately:

“Whatever misconceptions exist about port productivity, one reality stands out: If US ports don’t start improving their game right now, the field may become too busy to play in — and that could cost consumers, shippers, carriers, and others in the industry a very expensive and nasty lesson.”

Mr. Seideman’s opening paragraphs were the perfect lead-in to his pointed criticisms. He began with these words of admonition:

“American ports are facing an enormous challenge: Either they radically increase productivity, or they see huge maritime traffic jams develop, vast sums lost due to inefficiency, and massive amounts of goods and cargo move to competing places.

“A nightmare review of the potential future has been provided by the Port of Los Angeles in recent years, with multi-thousand-TEU containerships stacked up like planes waiting to land at a fogged-in airport and multiple weeks added to transit times.

“From proposal to planning to construction to opening, getting major new facilities constructed at an American port can take the better part of two decades. So the only way out is throughput.

“Projections are that in the next decade, maritime imports to the United States may rise by a factor of three. Most estimates are more conservative than that. But all agree that the stress on US ports is going to be enormous.

“‘Ocean-shipping consultants are predicting there is going to be an 85% growth in containerized cargo movements through us in 10 years. That’s going to require some major improvements in productivity,’ says Aaron Ellis, director of communication at the Alexandria, VA-based American Association of Port Authorities.”

But as Mr. Seideman wisely protests, “Yet there aren’t even any clear definitions of what port productivity means”. Or, to put it another way, port authorities and terminal operators don’t have a clue. And maybe that’s because their jobs aren’t at stake … as we indicated a few days ago.

In spite of the mesmerizing reports emanating from San Pedro, current band-aid applications just don’t cut it. David Hoppin of MergeGlobal, Inc., saw through the smoke when he stated, “More shipments are arriving late. Transit time variability is driving up costs. Importers are holding more inventory in safety stock to protect against the vagaries of their extended supply chains …”

[Port productivity? Port authorities are still dreaming of a high-tech magic bullet.]