If you’re looking to see how well the ports of Seattle and Tacoma each performed last year in handling containerized cargoes, don’t count on the once-rival ports to tell you.
The two ports Wednesday for the first time reported cargo statistics for December and for the 2014 year as a combined number. Those combined numbers show that the two ports’ combined container volume fell slightly less than one percent in 2014 to some 3.4 million 20-foot container units. Neither port publicly reported its separate numbers.
“Reporting our combined cargo volumes demonstrates our commitment to the Seaport Alliance,” said Port of Seattle Commission Co-president Stephanie Bowman. “This new partnership will make our two ports stronger, faster and a more cost-effective gateway.”
The two ports last fall announced they intend to form a marketing and operating alliance and end their competition aimed at attracting shipping lines from each other.
Though the two ports are now working on the details of how that arrangement will function, the combining of their statistical reports is one of the first visible changes the two separate port authorities have made to turn down the volume on the once fierce rivalry.
Spokespersons for the two ports said they are no longer reporting publicly how well each port performed in attracting and handling cargoes.
“That’s not something that we will be doing going forward,” said Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina. “Those figures won’t be available on our website,” said Peter McGraw, a Port of Seattle spokesman.
At The News Tribune’s request, the two ports released year end numbers for each port’s container operations. The Port of Seattle said it handled some 1.4 million container units in 2014. That’s a decline of 11.3 percent.
At the Port of Tacoma, some 2.04 million 20-foot container units passed over its docks last year. That was a 7.8 percent increase over the previous year.
Both ports’ numbers were deflated somewhat by a container handling slowdown that began on Halloween and still continues. That slowdown has cut productivity at 29 ports on the West Coast as the International Longshore Workers Union and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents shipping lines and terminal operators, war over the provisions of a new contract still being negotiated. Both sides blame the other for the work slowdown.
The two ports say they’re abandoning their competition in the face of new pressure from ports in Canada and Mexico and from East Coast ports to win container shipping lines’ business. Combined, the two ports are the third largest container port in the country, but their collective volumes have dropped for the second consecutive year.
“The industry is changing and the competition from other North American ports is fierce,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President Don Johnson. “We must adapt and work together to maintain — and grow — our share of the West Coast market to benefit the economic health of Washington state.”
While container numbers were flat and declining slightly, other cargoes were in the positive column. Grain exports jumped by 96.5 percent at the two ports to 7.5 million metric tons. Grain export markets are recovering from a drought in the Great Plains two years ago.
Petroleum volumes increased by 26.6 percent and auto imports and exports increased by 9.6 percent, all in Tacoma. The Port of Seattle doesn’t handle significant volumes of autos. Breakbulk cargoes, cargoes too large or ill-shaped to fit in containers, increased by 1.3 percent last year.
On the decline were log exports which fell by 28.9 percent on declining homebuilding in China.