Inbound Logistics | July 2022

E ven as many books, music, and movies travel electronically, physical goods still need to move, well, physically. More than four-fths of global merchandise trade by volume travels by sea at some point, according to The Container Port Performance Index 2021 , a publication of the World Bank Group and S&P Global Market Intelligence .

In 2020, water-going vessels moved $1.5 trillion worth of goods to and from the United States, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) reports. This drop from 2019’s $1.7 billion, a result of COVID, didn’t last. Instead, consumers shifted their discretionary spending from services to products. In the 10 months leading up to October 2021, the monthly value of U.S. international freight transported by ships jumped by more than 20% to $170 billion. The increase led to backlogs at many ports. In late December 2021, about 112 container vessels were waiting to berth at U.S. container ports, the BTS reports. “Some underlying trends and challenges were ripped open and laid bare by the stresses of the pandemic,” says Cary Davis, vice president, government relations and general counsel with the American Association of Port Authorities. “While there have been some improvements in dwell times, challenges remain as some ports continue to struggle with the increasing ow of cargo volume,” says Jason Price, senior director of research, U.S. industrial and logistics with Cushman & Wakeeld. The highest a North American port ranked in the Container Port Performance Index, which measures total port time, was the Port of Virginia, at 23. One reason for the relatively poor showing of many U.S. ports is their inability to share information between various entities, like port owners and crane and terminal operators, says Matt Dollard, industrials senior analyst with consulting rm RSM.

Among the technologies that come into play are driverless chassis and automated cranes. These help with “densication,” or stacking containers higher and closer together, which reduces the number of moves and the distance between them. Moreover, a lack of workers currently challenges many maritime companies. “We don’t have a big pool of people getting into the maritime industry,” notes Kimberly Cartagena, spokesperson with Centerline Logistics: One reason is a lack of knowledge. “Maritime is such a niche industry,” Cartagena says. Few people know they can earn a decent living working on a ship. In addition, the jobs are often blue collar. “Many parents want their kids to go to a four-year institution and become CEO,” she adds.

The lack of communication hinders efciency. In other countries, these organizations often are under the government’s control, and communication is more straightforward. Another challenge, particularly at West Coast ports, is the “complex labor/ management climate,” says William Hall, president of Seattle-based Seaport Consultants. That can make it difcult to bring in automation. While workers often worry automation will cut their jobs, a recent report commissioned by the Pacic Maritime Association nds that automation at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach actually boosted job growth opportunities for dock workers. Between 2015, the year before automation was introduced, and 2021, jobs at the automated terminals rose 31.5%, versus 13.9% at the non- automated terminals.

As part of its infrastructure expansion plan, the Georgia Ports Authority completed 18 new tracks at its Mason Mega Rail Terminal. The new tracks increase intermodal capacity to and from the Port of Savannah by more than 30%.

July 2022 • Inbound Logistics 167

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