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2015, A Year in Review: Following the Tumultuous West Coast Ports

West Coast ports closed out a tumultuous 2015 with a decline of 3 percent in container volume in December, with container traffic also declining 3 percent for the year. Numbers posted Monday on the website of the Pacific Maritime Association showed West Coast ports in 2015 with a slight increase in imports of 2 percent compared to calendar year 2014. However, exports declined 9 percent, which resulted in a 3 percent drop in total container volume.

A month-by-month analysis of the container volume that moved through West Coast ports last year bears little resemblance to normal traffic flows. That’s because the year started off in the throes of port congestion that resulted from work slowdowns and employer retaliation during coast-wide contract negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.

The period of January into February is normally busy as factories in Asia ship consumer merchandise to the U.S. before the plants close down for two weeks for the annual Chinese New Year celebration. However, containerized imports in January 2015 plunged 29 percent compared to January 2014, and imports in February declined 21 percent year-over-year.

In March, which should have been a month of slow recovery from the lunar new year celebrations, imports totaled 1.030,847 twenty-foot-equivalent units, up 51 percent from March 2014, according to PMA statistics. Much of the cargo that moved through the ports in March had been sitting on vessels stuck at anchor outside of West Coast ports during the months of port congestion.

Container traffic at West Coast ports last summer began to return to more normal patterns, with another peak month in August.

The past year was also marked by a decline in containerized exports due to the strong dollar and weakening economies in Asia and the European Union. Exports in December declined 5 percent from the same month in 2014. Imports were down 1 percent in December, and the total volume of laden containers in December was down 3 percent year-over-year.

With the labor issues resolved, and economists projecting an increase of about 5 percent this year in imports, with modest improvement in exports, West Coast ports this year are anticipating much stronger container traffic than in 2015.

Source: Bill Mongelluzzo at


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