Ports Look to Build on Strong Showing in 2021

Port of Los Angeles
Shipping containers at night at the Port of Los Angeles.(Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg News)

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The nation’s ports reported another strong month in December, and many closed 2021 with record or near-record container volume.

They anticipate the trend of the past two years will continue, especially with little sign of spending slowing down. 

Port of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest, ended the year processing a record 10.7 million 20-foot-equivalent containers. While final December numbers were not available yet, port workers moved an estimated 800,000 containers. Volume for 2021 broke the previous calendar year record by 13%.

During his annual State of the Port address, Executive Director Gene Seroka credited the work done by longshoremen and others who worked day and night to unload hundreds of ships. 

“Decades of development provided the berth space, back land and rail infrastructure to process more cargo than ever before,” Seroka said. “In 2021, our marine terminal operators and workforce gave us the ability to move that cargo from the ships to railcars or out the gates on trucks. And for that, we are forever grateful to them.”

The adjacent Port of Long Beach finished December with a 7.55% year-over-year decline, processing 754,314 containers compared with 815,885 in 2020. For the full year, the port saw a nearly 15.7% increase, moving 9,384,368 TEUs compared with 8,113,315. 2021 marked the first year Long Beach has exceed 9 million containers, and volume has more than doubled since 2003.

“I look forward to enhancing productivity in 2022 by advancing our move toward 24/7 terminal operations, deploying data-sharing technologies for our industry partner and continuing our infrastructure improvements,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said.  

Port of Oakland finished 2021 with an 18.6% decline in December, processing 169,659 containers compared with 208,339 in the same month a year ago. For all of last year, the port processed 2,448,243 containers compared with 2,461,262, a year-over-year 0.5% decline.

Port officials said the success of the Southern California ports and soaring international shipping rates contributed to the decline.

Even with unloading delays at Los Angeles and Long Beach, shipping companies have determined it is more profitable to immediately go to their home locations in Asia and return to the U.S., rather than making an intermediate stop in Oakland. 



“We’re gratified that our import business remained strong,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said. “Our emphasis now is on overcoming supply chain challenges that have hurt our export customers.”

The combined ports of Seattle-Tacoma, Wash., notched a 12.5% year-over-year increase, moving 3,736,206 containers compared with 3,320,379. 

Port Houston also enjoyed a strong month, processing 303,204 containers, 9.7% more than the 276,443 in December 2020. The port processed 15% more containers for all of last year, with a record 3,453,226 compared with 3,001,164 in 2020.

Port officials also recently announced the Army Corp of Engineers is proceeding with $142.5 million in funding for deepening and widening of the Houston Ship Channel. 



“Access to safe and efficient infrastructure is critical as more goods come in and out of Texas ports each day,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said.

The nation’s third-largest port, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, did not report Decembers numbers as of press time. However, the port already had shattered previous-year numbers in just 11 months, moving 8,215,176 TEUs. 

Port of Virginia reported a 25% year-over-year increase in December, moving 325,527 containers compared with 260,401. The port also closed with a record 25.2% increase for the year, processing 3,522,834 TEUs compared with 2,813,415.



“This year presented challenges to world trade beyond what we, and the industry, could have ever imagined,” Virginia Port Authority CEO Stephen Edwards said. “We kept our focus and delivered a best-in-class performance.”

Port of Savannah also had not posted December’s volume at press time, but the southeast Georgia facility already processed a record 5,148,212 TEUs. It’s likely the facility will finish above 5.5 million TEUs, easily surpassing 2020’s record of 4,682,255. Anticipating strong growth for at least the next 10 years, Savannah is streamlining operations to allow for more ships.

Currently, the port serves 36 vessels per week and averages 14,000 truck moves per day. Port expansion, expected to be complete this summer, will increase capacity by 25%.


The Port of Charleston, S.C., finished December up 17.6% from the same month a year ago, handling 246,198 TEUs compared with 209,606. The port also set a yearly record in 2021, moving 2,751,442 containers, a 12.9% increase compared with its all-time best of 2,436,185 in 2019.


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