The Port of Los Angeles had a “landmark” 2021 that included moving more container units in a calendar year than any Western Hemisphere port had ever done, but also myriad challenges, such as ships parked for miles outside the harbor and a workforce pressed to its limits, Executive Director Gene Seroka said Thursday, Jan. 20.
Seroka made those remarks during his annual state of the port address, during which he announced that more than 10.7 million container units moved through Port of LA docks in 2021 amid the second year of a global pandemic that would not let up.
“We learned how much cargo we could move through our port under extraordinary circumstances,” Seroka said during the virtual address.
It was 13% more cargo volume than was seen in 2018, the previous record-breaking year, he said.
Speaking from the backland of the Everport Terminal Services facility, the port’s longest terminal partner, Seroka reviewed the year’s stunning ups and downs that was so nationally and globally significant it drew an audience with the President Joe Biden and collaboration with the White House to address the various challenges.
The big story in 2021 centered around the surge of pandemic-fueled cargo that backed ships up for miles, left containers lingering at terminals or on city streets, trucks without enough chassis and warehouses overflowing.
It all triggered a tsunami of government meetings and port visits, culminating with Seroka and his counterpart, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero, traveling to the White House for a meeting with Biden.
“For the Port of Los Angeles, 2021 was a year of unprecedented engagement,” Seroka said, “a year when all of America saw first-hand just how important the global supply chain is to their lives.”
That global importance of goods movement is something that’s true in any year, Seroka said.
“But in 2021,” he said, “we went into overdrive.”
“The year-long images of dozens of ships anchored off our shorelines, helicopters circling the bay, and containers stacked six-high in our terminals,” Seroka added, “became a fixture in the media’s coverage of the distressed global supply chain.”
Seroka praised longshore workers who didn’t have the option of working from home to avoid the virus but showed up “every single day.”
“And let me tell you, those are long days of hard, demanding work,” Seroka said. “They are the heart of the progress we make, the strongest links in our supply chain and the true heroes of our story.”
The yearlong public spotlight on port congestion was unrelenting but raised needed attention, he said, both from the private sector and elected leaders.
“We established a strong relationship with the Biden-Harris Administration, with whom we have spent considerable time analyzing the issues and discussing strategies to speed the flow of cargo while supporting America’s economy.”
Besides the 10.7 million containers units in the 2021 calendar year, the port also saw more than 10.8 million container units from July 2020 to June 2021, the period marking the port’s fiscal year. It then saw 5 million more move through from July to the end of 2021.
“End-to-end,” Seroka said, “those containers would stretch nearly three times around the world.”
This was Seroka’s second State of the Port address that had to be held remotely, because of the latest surge of the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked havoc and disrupted business-as-usual. The event is held each year by the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
Seroka, appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014, stressed how the events of 2020-21 have opened doors to new collaborations, needed infrastructure funding and a broader workforce vision.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress will bring $17 billion to ports and waterways. The state budget announced this month designates $2.3 billion to ports.
It is, Seroka said, “an opportunity to correct an historic funding imbalance. Over the past decade, East and Gulf Coast ports have received eleven times more federal investment than West Coast ports.”
Along with that, the port itself has accelerated a $2.6 billion capital plan, he said.
“As a landlord port with finite space, this surge of imports has especially underscored our need to be able to flex and scale the use of our properties. In times like this, that means having more swing space to ease terminal congestion.”
In the coming year, Seroka said, the ports of LA and Long Beach will break ground on a Goods Movement Training campus on 15 acres of Los Angeles port property in Wilmington; California Gov. Gavin Newsom has committed $110 million for the project. Along with preparing longshore workers for more automated jobs coming in the future, Seroka stressed the need to elevate jobs in trucking and warehousing to more professional status.
Among other points made in the annual speech:
- An Excess Dwell Fee targeting import containers taking up needed dock space has resulted in a 60% reduction of those containers — without the ports ever having to charge the fee.
- Despite the ongoing pandemic challenges, cruise ships have returned to the port after an 18-month pause. Ten cruise brands now will operate out of the Port of LA, Seroka said, with more than 200 sailings on the schedule for this year — “the most since 2008,” Seroka said.
- The cargo surge created truck and container congestion impacts, especially in Wilmington, Seroka said, noting that progress is being made via a Truck and Container Task Force created in October and led by Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino and Los Angeles harbor Commissioner Lucia Moreno-Linares.
- Efforts continue on the port’s push toward a zero-emission operation, with 107 zero-emission and 27 near-zero emission pieces of equipment for cargo handling and other tasks now being tested; a Clean Truck Fund Rate will launch in April in conjunction with the Port of Long Beach and is expected to raise $130 million over the next three years, to be used for new trucks and infrastruction.
- The Port of Los Angeles continues pushing to digitize cargo data and in 2021 launched a Control Tower suite of data tools expanding the information system that allows cargo owners and others to manage and coordinate shipments.
Port of Long Beach Executive Director Marior Cordero is scheduled to give his annual state of the port address virtually on Feb. 9. That port announced on Wednesday that it moved 9.38 million cargo container units last year, the most in its history.
Source: Orange County Register