Container business recovery at Port of Portland ‘could take years’

Container business recovery at Port of Portland ‘could take years’

San Francisco: It could take many months, even years for the Port of Portland to recover the levels of business its container port has lost in the past two months, but nothing will happen until the labour-relations issue is resolved.

That was the assessment of port spokesman Steve Johnson who spoke to Splash on Wednesday.

The port has been reeling from the withdrawal of business by major carriers Hanjin of Korea and Hapag-Lloyd of Germany, between them accounting for nearly all of the container port’s activity.

“We hope to restore container service at Terminal 6 at some point,” Johnson said. “Over the past few years we have reached out to carriers who might be interested in coming to the Port of Portland. And we offered financial incentives to try to keep the existing ones, such as using money from ICTSI in the form of rebates worth $11m in total to encourage them to stay.”

ICTSI (International Container Services, Inc) is a Philippines-based global ports operator, which took over the running of the Port of Portland in 2010.

“It boiled down to the fact that carriers could not maintain a reliable schedule at the port. That relates to labour relations. We think the confidence can be restored but any new carriers would require assurances of reliability from labour and management. It could take time – not days or weeks, more likely many months or years.

“The ones really hurt by this are the businesses who move goods through our port, especially farmers in Washington state and Idaho. Hapag-Lloyd for example carried peas, beans and lentils to the Port of Lewiston, Idaho, and then by barge to Portland, then on to customers in the Mediterranean. Now those farmers will have to move those goods by truck or rail and for some it may not be cost effective.”

Jobs were lost and the local economy hit, too.

“We estimate Hanjin supported 647 direct jobs and $33m in wages. We don’t have figures for Hapag-Lloyd in that regard. But we plan to continue conversations with those clients who left us in the hope service will be restored.”

Johnson says the terminal is only part of the port’s whole picture, however.

“Containers are only about 10% of our whole operation. That leaves 90% of activity in the rest of the port intact. The terminal has many selling points. Portland is on the confluence of two major rivers the Columbia and the Willamette. We have great rail and highway service. ”

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.

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