2015 was a busy year for container traffic on the US East Coast with the arrival of 7.9 million TEU of loaded containers, a 12.6% increase when compared to 7 million in 2014, BIMCO’s data shows.
While the US East Coast ports experienced a surge in incoming traffic, labour issues and port congestion gloomed over the US West Coast as contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) protracted.
“As the conflict on the US West Coast dragged out, some of the traffic was diverted to US East Coast ports. These ports benefitted greatly from the diverted traffic but also from the fact that this happened at a time when personal consumption of goods in the US was on the rise.
“Going forward, one of the big questions will be whether or not the US East Coast ports can hang on to this new business,” Chief Shipping Analyst, Peter Sand says.
The Port of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) manages the majority of the container trade on the US East Coast, with a total of 6.4 million TEUs handled in 2015. The amount of loaded containers that headed into PANYNJ grew by 9.2% in 2015, to a total of 3.2 million TEUs. Despite being the biggest player on the US East Coast, PANYNJ was not the only port to benefit from the growing traffic. The Port of Savannah was the port that experienced the highest growth rate, rising by 20.4% from 2014.
On the US West Coast, the quantity of loaded containers entering the ports was virtually unchanged at 10 million TEU in 2015, growing only 0.4% from the previous year. One of the primary reasons for the low growth was the labour dispute, in addition to the subsequent port congestion.
Contrary to the growing quantity of containers coming into the US, the situation was different for outgoing containers. While more and more loaded containers were coming in, most of them were leaving empty, especially from the US West Coast ports. Only 4.9 million TEU of loaded containers left a US West Coast port, a drop of 10.2% compared to 2014. On the US East Coast, 5.2 million TEU of loaded containers were exported in 2015. A slide of 0.4% when compared to 2014, according to BIMCO.
“Despite two consecutive years of double-digit growth at US East Coast ports, it is important to note that the US West Coast ports still handle more volume,” Sand adds.
“The US West Coast ports handled 56% of the inbound loaded containers in to the US, according to BIMCO’s data in 2015, but have declined since 2012/2013 where 60% of the business was handled by the US West Coast ports.
Due to the expansion of the Panama Canal and the lower fuel costs brought about by the lower oil price, we expect to see even more of the Asian imports head towards the US East Coast ports. These ports are currently preparing to cater fo ultra-large containerships in the near future.”