October 12, 2017 3:30 PM, EDT

Cargo Volumes Surge at Southern California Ports; Virginia Sees 8.2% Gain

Port of Long BeachPort of Long Beach via YouTube

Container traffic was mixed at the nation's largest ports, with two easily outpacing last year's totals in September but a third eeking out a small win. 

The Port of Los Angeles, the largest in North America, reported a 2.2% year-over-year increase to 763,784 industry-standard 20-foot-equivalent unit containers, or TEUs, the third-largest September in its history. However, loaded imports declined 0.1% to 388,670, and exports fell 11% to 128,445, only beating last year's total due to a 15% jump in empty containers.

For September, the Port of Los Angeles had 88 vessel visits with an average TEU count of 8,679, a record.

"As we enter the final quarter of 2017, we're pleased to be tracking toward record volumes for a Western Hemisphere port," Port of Los Angeles Director Gene Seroka said.

Through September, cargo volumes are up 8.2% to 6.9 million TEUs. In 2016, Los Angeles ended the year with a record-breaking 8.8 million.

The Port of Long Beach, Calif., the second largest, shattered a record for the busiest September in its history. Stevedores processed 701,619 TEUs, a 28% surge from the same point in 2016. For the third quarter, the port moved 2.1 million TEUs, a record for any quarter at the port and a 16% jump from July through September 2016.

Loaded import containers soared 30% to 366,298, and export rose 4.1% to 125,336.

“Simply put, we are having the best trade months in port history,” Harbor Commission President Lou Anne Bynum said. “Back-to-school merchandise was strong for us, and it looks like retailers are optimistic about the holiday season.”

However, one reason the year-over-year increases are so dramatic is that last September was the height of the supply chain crisis after Hanjin Shipping filed for bankruptcy protection, stranding some containerships on the ocean for weeks.

For the calendar year, container volumes are up 8.9% to 5.6 million TEUs.

“Our continuing recovery is due to our best-in-the-industry customer service, and the best terminals and infrastructure in the nation for shippers who need to rapidly transport cargo,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said. “We’re expecting to have great numbers right through the end of the year and challenge 2007 for our highest annual container volume in history.”

At the Port of Virginia, No. 7 in North America, container volume rose 8.2% to 237,816 TEUs. Loaded import containers went up 9.5% to 109,716, but exports fell 6.2% to 76,794.


“Our gate volume was up nearly 15%, barge volume to Richmond Marine Terminal was up more than 12%, and automobiles moving across Newport News Marine Terminal increased more than 28%, on a year-over-year basis,” Virginia Port Authority CEO John Reinhart said. “We are processing this volume safely, with continued efficiency, consistent service and mitigating adverse impacts on the operation during construction.”

Reinhart also highlighted progress on the expansion of the Virginia International Gateway terminal. The first automated rail-mounted gantry cranes are due to be delivered in January, he said. When complete, the $320 million project would double the throughput of the terminal to 1.2 million containers annually. Part of the work includes purchasing four ship-to-shore cranes to handle megavessels of 18,000 TEUs, although the Panama Canal cannot handle ones greater than 14,000.

“We are seeing continued growth in all of our trade lanes, good peak-season volume and anticipate a solid performance for the remainder of the year,” Reinhart said.

The Port of Virginia also recently announced participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southeast In-Transit Cold Treatment Pilot program to provide a direct route for perishables from South America. The port also won a $1.55 million Federal Highway Administration grant to install a reservation system for the trucking community, one of many ports attempting to examine whether the idea would reduce turn times.