March was the busiest month since September at Puget Sound’s two largest ports, Tacoma and Seattle, new statistics show.
But don’t expect April’s figures to reflect the same 21 percent increase in container traffic at the two ports, shipping officials say. That’s because March’s big increase was in large part the result of longshore workers clearing out an accumulated backlog of containers that jammed the two ports during a slowdown that began in late October and continued through late February.
That slowdown happened as the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminals on the West Coast, deadlocked in negotiations for a new contract. The association said the union deliberately slowed operations at terminals from Bellingham to San Diego. The union blamed the decline in productivity on mismanagement of the terminals by shipping lines and their terminal operators.
The pace of work returned to normal when the two sides reached a tentative deal in late February. Union leadership has recommended ratification of that deal. The result of the union membership vote will be announced in late May.
The figures released in combined form by the Tacoma and Seattle ports show together they handled 361,951 20-foot-equivalent containers in March. That compares with 298,250 units in March 2014.
The two ports now are releasing cargo figures only as combined totals rather than by individual ports. The ports are in the process of joining their cargo operations into a single alliance, casting aside decades of rivalry between them. The alliance will manage the marketing and operations of the ports’ cargo facilities but those facilities will remain under each port’s individual ownership.
The alliance, scheduled to begin operating in late summer this year, aims to halt the market share decline Puget Sound has seen versus new facilities in Canada, Mexico and Southern California.
Other cargo figures for 2015 through March were a mixture of gains and losses. Break bulk, grain and molasses cargoes were up in March with break bulk and grain up more than 10 percent and molasses up almost 34 percent. Break bulk cargoes include large construction and farm machinery and wind turbine blades too large to fit in conventional cargo containers.
Gypsum imports fell by 35.6 percent and log exports were off almost 41 percent on a weak Chinese housing market. Auto imports were down slightly less than one percent, according to the two ports.