Washington State Port Business Slowly Slips South

Lower efficiency, smaller markets may share blame


Washington’s container ports are losing their tenuous grip on the West Coast market share they gained during 2004 and 2005, when the clogged harbors of San Pedro Bay, Calif., diverted cargo from the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach to chillier northern climes.

The Port of Seattle does not yet know why volume has fallen 2.1 percent so far this year, compared with the same time in 2006. In March, the volume of containerized cargo flowing through Seattle’s four major container terminals declined more drastically — by 11.9 percent compared with the previous March.

While local port officials in the past have blamed declines on the reabsorption of containers by the ports of Los Angeles/Long Beach, the president and chief executive of the Pacific Maritime Association — a coalition of domestic and international carriers and stevedores on the West Coast — said Thursday that it has to do with efficiency.

Or, to be more precise, a lack thereof at Washington’s container ports.

“Production in Seattle is the lowest on the West Coast, so to be competitive Seattle has to bring its production up,” Pacific Maritime Association Chief James McKenna said, referring to the average number of containers moved by crane an hour, an industry standard for port efficiency.

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