Cargo Volumes Hit a Soft Spot in Both Major Puget Sound Ports

By John Gillie, March 20, 2014, The News Tribune

The post-recession rebound may be over for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.


Together the two ports saw containerized cargo numbers drop by 12.4 percent last month and by 10.5 percent during 2014’s first two months.


The cargo dropoff was worse in Seattle where container volumes declined by 20.4 percent in February and 16.4 percent year to date. In Tacoma, container traffic was off 5.3 percent through the first two months of 2014.


The Tacoma decrease was almost identical in January (5.2 percent) and February (5.4 percent).


The ports blamed part of the decline on the timing of the Lunar New Year at the end of January which typically causes a two-week shutdown of industries in China.


Puget Sound ports weren’t the only West Coast ports to witness container traffic declines.


The Port of Los Angeles witnessed a nearly 9 percent decline in containerized shipments in February and a 3 percent dropoff through the first two months of 2014.


The adjoining Port of Long Beach had a 2.6 percent decline in container cargo in February, and the Port of Oakland reported a 5.5 percent decrease in container numbers in February and a year-to-date fall of 1.6 percent.


In Canada, the Port of Vancouver said container numbers were essentially flat through February.


Puget Sound’s two major ports recently received permission from the Federal Maritime Commission to begin sharing information with an eye toward bolstering Puget Sound’s  position in the face of new competition from the Port of Prince Rupert in Canada and several Mexican ports with have an import tax advantage over U.S. ports.


Not all port news was sour last month.


Breakbulk cargo shipments through Tacoma for January and February were up by 33.4 percent, and auto shipments rose by 18.4 percent. Log shipments, however, declined by nearly 31 percent, and grain shipments were off by 3.3 percent.


Breakbulk cargoes are those too large or oddly shaped to fit in a standard shipping container.  Breakbulk cargoes include large pieces of machinery, farming and construction equipment.

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