Statistics from ports up and down the US West Coast tell the story: at Los Angeles, total volumes down 14.9% in January-August, compared with the same period 2008.
Statistics from ports up and down the US West Coast tell the story: at Los Angeles, total volumes down 14.9% in January-August, compared with the same period 2008; containers down by 20% at Long Beach in the first nine months; double digit declines in volumes at Portland. But despite this some huge investment programmes are moving forward. Los Angeles says it is spending more than $1m a day on construction products throughout the port; Long Beach has won approval for its $750m Middle Harbor Redevelopment Project; and Portland has more than $500m of construction activity under way, including both aviation and marine ? it is investing $50m in its Rivergate Industrial District alone, and a massive channel deepening project is moving towards completion by the end of next year.
And a series of environmental projects are ploughing ahead too, following on from the introduction of the Clean Truck Program at Los Angeles and Long Beach.
However, there have been some casualties ? notably the decision by NYK and the Port of Tacoma to scrap plans for a $300m container terminal in the Blair Waterway. NYK ships will instead call at APM Terminals" facility at Tacoma.
?The year 2009 has been particularly tough here in Los Angeles ? Long Beach, speaking from a ship count perspective,? says Richard McKenna, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which operates vessel traffic services. ?A gradual decline started in December 2007, but it seemed to hit with full force throughout this calendar year.
?Having settled into an expectation of a monthly ship arrival rate in the high 400s in 2007, it was disappointing to see the monthly average drop into the mid 400s in 2008, at which point we thought the situation had stabilised.?
It was therefore something of a shock to see a further descent into the high 300-range, with August bringing the worst month since the early 1980s at 361, says Mr McKenna.
?Things have improved only slightly since then, but with little hope of pronounced improvement any time soon.?
Car carriers, general cargo and containerships account for the steepest drops percentage wise, he says. The most significant drop-off by far was in the containership category: the 2008 monthly average was 231, but the average has since fallen to 204 at the latest count.
?Reduced ship traffic means less cargo, means less work, means cutbacks and belt tightening,? says Mr McKenna. ?We are aware of some of our smaller customers shutting up shop and several liner services being curtailed as well as a drop-off in cruise ship arrivals. In the container world, consolidation is the name of the game; several companies have combined their services to reduce the need for a ship string or two.?
Los Angeles handled 7.8m teu in 2008, compared with 8.4m teu in 2007. This year overall cargo volumes are ?in line with or better than? the declines of other ports, according to spokesman Phillip Sanfield.
While total volumes were down 14.9% in January-August, imports were down 16% overall. The port"s top ten 2008 containerised imports make up 38% of its total loaded imports. Of these, the largest decline was in automotive parts, down 25%, but also down were furniture (14% down), electronic products (20%), computers (15%), sporting goods (20%) and other general cargo and plastic products were all down. Clothing, the port"s second largest import by volume, was down but only by 9%; toys remained at about the same level, and footwear imports actually increased by 5%.
Art Wong, spokesman at the Port of Long Beach, says: ?2009 has been as bad for us as everyone else. We were down 11% in 2008, our worst year in the 20 years that we have been a major container cargo port. This year, we"re down another 20% through September, in terms of containers.?
Other sectors are also very weak: in the first nine months of 2009, steel was down 33%, vehicles down 58%, and lumber down 31%. Only crude oil increased, by 3%.
Both ports are pushing ahead with major investments, however.
The Middle Harbor redevelopment at Long Beach will upgrade and merge two outdated container terminals, tripling capacity while cutting air pollution by 50%, says Mr Wong.
?We have the financial resources to move ahead with our infrastructure investments. We continue so that the cargo will come back to the best, most productive facilities; in the meantime, we are offering incentives to speed the return.?
For its part, the Port of Los Angeles is spending more than $1m a day on construction projects throughout the port and a number of new projects have recently been approved, says spokesman Phillip Sanfield.
?We are creating thousands of jobs and will be well prepared when the economy rebounds,? he says.
The $275m TraPac container terminal expansion is going ahead after Mitsui OSK Lines subsidiary TraPac renewed its lease for another 30 years, under the Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP). The expansion will add a fourth berth, an on-dock railyard, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold standard buildings and shore power for vessels. The project is also tied into the port"s vessel speed reduction programme to reduce emissions from ships transiting within 40 miles of San Pedro Bay.
Expansion at the China Shipping Terminal will increase quay length to 2,500 ft, to be served by ten post-panamax cranes.
The port is also in the midst of a £42m upgrade of its World Cruise Terminal ? with the work including a new gangway system and cold-ironing facilities. A new 71,500 sq ft solar panel system on the roof is due to start generating one megawatt of electricity in spring 2010; this is a $10m project, with additional phases planned ultimately to generate 10 megawatts through 1.16m sq ft of solar panels. Other investments include the $125m phase II of Cabrillo Way Marina and a new port police headquarters building.
In September, the Los Angeles Harbor Commission approved the $1.2bn LA Waterfront Redevelopment Project.