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Port Envoy Urges Fix for Supply Chain ‘Stress Points’

U.S. Port Envoy Stephen Lyons weighed in on the ongoing discussions around 24/7 operations, pointing out the concept works best when it’s applied across the supply chain.

“Obviously, if you expand hours, there’s the opportunity to move more freight, more fluidity,” Lyons said in a pre-taped interview with Port of Long Beach executive director Mario Cordero on Tuesday.

The conversation around expanding operations to 24/7 at ports has continued as supply chain stakeholders evaluate solutions that would help relieve supply chain congestion in the near- and long-term.

Some, such as Lyons, have pointed out the concept makes greater sense when 24/7 operations are applied broadly and not just at a single point within the goods movement system.

“It would make sense to expand hours of operations, if you can get that kind of approach throughout the supply chain,” Lyons told Cordero. “So if only you or only a terminal goes to 24/7, that’s interesting. But if everybody, if you include the warehousing community, all the other modes of transport moving to 24/7 or something more than today, it seems to make logical sense that you can move much more cargo in the same period of time.”

Imports slowed at the Port of Long Beach last month, down 1.8 percent to 376,176 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), according to figures released by the port on Tuesday. Meanwhile, exports totaled 109,411, down 0.5 percent.

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In total, the port said a total of 785,843 TEUs were moved last month, reflecting a 0.1 percent gain from the year-ago period.

“We are continuing to seek solutions to improve efficiency as a record-breaking number of containers move through the port,” Cordero said. “We hope to relieve some of the stress points by continuing to support a transition of the entire supply chain to 24/7 operations and ensuring our industry partners can track containers with our new Supply Chain Information Highway data solution.”

In a sign of perhaps some congestion easing, the number of empty containers moved at the Port of Long Beach last month totaled 300,257 TEUs, an increase of 2.8 percent from a year ago.

Long-dwelling containers have been one source of congestion for many ports, and it’s one of the reasons the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach introducing a long-dwelling container fee last October. The ports have held off consideration of the fee since then, most recently saying late last month the topic would be shelved until Aug. 26, citing the decline of aging cargo at Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The two ports said long-dwelling containers are down 26 percent since the fee program was first announced. The program would charge ocean carriers $100 for every container sitting for nine days or more. Another $100 would be added each day the container continues to sit.

The San Pedro Bay Ports’ peers on the East Coast are moving ahead with their own fee program aimed at clearing the congestion created from empty containers not being picked up by carriers at the Port of New York and New Jersey.

The Port Authority said last week its program will go into effect Sept. 1 and charge $100 for every container in cases where a carrier’s outgoing container volume is less than 110 percent of what it has coming in.

The East and Gulf coast ports have been hit particularly hard with record import volumes as shippers sought to avoid long wait times on the West Coast in favor of port alternatives.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is also allocating about 12 acres of space for temporary empty container storage at the Port of Newark and the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal.

Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) Daniel Maffei said last week the regulatory agency would be looking more closely at the issue of carriers not picking up empty containers, saying the imbalance of what comes in and what gets picked up has created “an untenable situation for terminals, importers and exporters, trucking companies and the port itself.”

Maffei went a step further to say carriers that don’t allow shippers and truckers to return containers should pay them a fee for the storage.