NEW ORLEANS – Where the nation sees constricted supply lines and the White House warns of empty Christmas shelves, the Port of New Orleans sees opportunity.
In what some might call “disruptive capitalism,” New Orleans porters are trying to lure some of the transoceanic shipping that is currently bubbling for days, even weeks, on the high seas, waiting for a berth in one of America’s mammoth coastal ports. .
“We’re asking, ‘How can the Port of New Orleans help with this supply chain disruption?'” Said Todd Rives, the port’s commercial director. “Right now we are more of a niche port, but we are ready and able to expand.”
The need for expanded port facilities has been clear for several months as ships en route to Los Angeles, Long Beach, Savannah, New York and other coastal ports await berths. All terminals are open in most of these ports, but the backlog is so large that even Los Angeles, which services 24 ships a day, cannot keep up with demand, says the port’s spokesman Phillip Sanfield.
The clogged ports look like an option for New Orleans port officials who have initiated a series of moves to try to retrieve some of the business, starting with a speech that Rives gave in Atlanta this month and urged the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals to consider to add New Orleans port calls.
The port is also flaring up at other conferences and intensifying its campaign on social media to lure customers.
“We have specifically worked with targeted customer engagement, especially with importers as well as ocean carriers,” said Jessica Radusa, spokeswoman for the Port of New Orleans. “We participate and pitch our capabilities at conferences as well as speaking engagements. We have also focused on targeted social media to reach out to these partners and plan increased port trips for our customers and new partners interested in shopping here. ”
New Orleans is a much smaller operation than its crowded competitors. But even the smaller numbers provide an insight into the gigantic scale of international shipping.
New Orleans facilities include 40 berths, 20 million square feet of cargo handling area, six cranes for ship to shore (with a further four arriving in late November) and more than 3.1 million square feet of covered storage space.
These numbers pale in comparison to the massive ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the country’s largest, which together handle about 40% of all American shipping.
But enormous size has not prevented dozens of vessels from floating in the Pacific and waiting for a quay to open. Last week, the Port of Los Angeles announced that it would operate around the clock in an effort to reduce the backlog and joined Long Beach, which took a similar step last month.
“The average waiting time is now 10 days,” Sanfield said.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Our stocks are filled to the maximum, just filled, and we see only half of the 15,000 hauliers registered to serve the port with any regularity,” he said.
This number refers to short-haul trucks, Sanfield noted. The picture is not much better with those transporting containers across the country. A driver shortage has grown more acute since it began in 2005, according to the American Trucking Associations.
“Before the pandemic, our industry lacked more than 60,000 drivers,” said ATA chief economist Bob Costello. “The shortage of drivers, combined with a number of other issues ranging from a shortage of trucks and truck parts to increased demand across the country, has put a heavy strain on the supply chain. We see that stress from the California coast as container ships are idling waiting to be loaded. ”
Enter New Orleans, said Mr. Rives.
New Orleans has been a port that traded with Central and South America, and is a longer trip for trans-Pacific vessels that were to transport the Panama Canal. But now that shipping costs from Asia have risen — a 40-foot container now costs more over $ 20,000 to ship from China to the United States, up from $ 3,167 in August 2020, which at the time was a 10-year high — that may not be the biggest consideration these days, he said.
“We have open quay capacity, shipyard capacity and we have rail,” Rives said, noting that shippers have access to rail heads that can move goods in any direction.
“Memphis, Dallas, Chicago,” Mr. Rives rattled off destinations. “If a trip from Shanghai to Long Beach takes 11 days and there is 21 days more waiting time, you can take from Asia to New Orleans and I have no rail stops.”
The same goes for transatlantic travel. On Wednesday, The Maritime Executive reported two of the world’s largest shipping companies, Hapag-Lloyd and CMA CGM suspended port calls to Savannah due to delays in unloading.
Much of the supply chain problem began with closures of COVID-19 and the consequent stimulus checks and pent-up demand that triggered a buying bin, according to officials at several ports.
Despite bottlenecks – Chicago’s railroad head, one of the nation’s largest, recently had a series of trains more than 30 miles long – record volumes of cargo are still moving through the ports.
New Orleans, like the rest, suffered some setbacks during the shutdown of the coronavirus, and Hurricane Ida left Crescent City port without power for a week. These hits came amid strong growth.
“Before the pandemic, we looked at increases year after year in containers,” Ragusa said. “Our container business has doubled in 10 years, and we experienced double-digit growth rates in 2018 and 2019.”
Both the scale of the problem and the timing mean that even if New Orleans catches some of the swollen shipping traffic, it would not do much to help the holiday that the White House has warned about. Contracts have been drawn up too far in advance, Rives said.
Yet the opportunity is there.
“Someone needs to be creative and come up with another solution,” Rives said. “We will talk about the same issues in the next 12 months.”
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