A new queuing process for containerships at Southern California ports will be expanded north to the Port of Oakland, shipping officials announced Monday.
The new process, developed by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), the Marine Exchange of the San Francisco Bay Region, is meant to improve safety and air quality near the coast by having ships wait for a berth offshore, rather than anchorages in the Bay Area.
Effective Monday, containerships will receive a space in the arrival queue based on their departure time from their last port of call, and wait outside a new Safety and Air Quality Area that will extend 50 miles from Northern California until their appointment arrival time. The previous system placed container vessels into the arrival queue based on when they crossed a line 80 nautical miles from the coast.
The implementation of the new process comes after a similar process was introduced at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach in November, which has been credited for significantly reducing the backlog of ships in the immediate vicinity of San Pedro Bay. The new procedure also enables vessels to slow steam across the Pacific, thereby reducing emissions through their journey.
The goal of the new process is two-fold; to improve safety by allowing more space between vessels, an important safety consideration especially during severe weather; and reduce emissions from vessels near populated areas. While stakeholders recognize that the updated system is not designed to reduce the number of vessels calling at the port or fix the problem of congestion itself, overall it has been called a success, at least according to its designers.
“The resounding success of the new container vessel queuing system in Southern California has set the state for this expansion to the Bay Area,” said PMA President and CEO Jim McKenna. “This updated system has reduced the number of vessels at anchor near our ports, enabling safer operation for vessels and their crews as well as additional protections for coastal communities.”
As of January 7, there were nine containerships anchored or awaiting berth near Oakland, with the number expected to rise in early 2022. Cargo volumes at the Port of Oakland have rebounded in recent months as shipping lines restored services to the port following mid-year cancellations. Even with the cancellations, 2021 could shape up to be the busiest year in Port of Oakland history, depending on final numbers yet-to-be-released from December.
“The Ports of Oakland is a powerful engine for the Northern California economy,” said PMSA President John McLaurin. “This new approach to vessel queuing will help protect this economic driver amid an unprecedented period for consumer demand and inbound cargo volumes.”
“The PMA, PMSA and Marine Exchange of San Francisco Bay Region are implementing this vessel queuing process to promote fair, efficient and reliable system in a chapter of unprecedented maritime congestion,” said Marine Exchange of Southern California Bay Region Executive Director Capt. Lyon Korwatch. We look forward to our region reaping the safety and clean-air benefits as a result.”