Puget Sound Seaport Alliance issues first combined container numbers

Steve Wilhelm, January 21, 2015, Puget Sound Business Journal

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma took a symbolic step toward maritime collaboration Tuesday, by releasing joint statistics on container traffic for the first time.

Before the two ports merged operations under the Seaport Alliance, numbers were released separately, and were often a reflection of the competition between Seattle and Tacoma.

But so far there’s no magic in the alliance.

The total for the planned Seaport Alliance, a collaboration of the two ports’ maritime operations, shows a slight 0.8 percent decrease from the year before, to 3.4 million 20-foot containers, a measure called TEUs (20-foot equivalent unit).

The alliance isn’t actually formalized yet, a step expected in March, so the ports haven’t yet taken visible steps other than merging their numbers.

What this new statistic does suggest is a significant change in thinking, leading to a time in which the ports will make coordinated investments in facilities to keep costs down, and to better compete against other threats.

The downward cargo trend partly reflects slowdowns in container traffic along the entire U.S. West Coast this year as the unions representing dock workers and ocean carriers operate without a contract. Negotiations remain unresolved. Both side have blamed the other for cargo slowdowns.

The new numbers merge the operations of the two ports, so it’s no longer clear which is ahead of the other. But from the point of view of plans to collaborate as the Seaport Alliance, that doesn’t matter.

But the two ports’ numbers will still be available to anyone on request, said Georgette Reidburn, b usiness and market analyst for the Port of Tacoma, in an email.

The numbers also give a different view of West Coast port competition, showing that the ports of Seattle and Tacoma continue to lose ground against Canadian and Southern California ports.

The Big Kahuna on the West Coast are the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, which together handled 15.1 million TEUs of cargo in 2014, which is up about 3 percent overall.

Port Metro Vancouver will likely remain behind the Seaport Alliance this year, with 2.67 million TEUs through November, the last date the Canadians are reporting. That total has grown 2.8 percent this year so far, compared to the year before.

 

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