Western Canadian Cargo Flow Returning to Normal Following Labor Agreement
The Western Canadian ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert are clearing out container backlogs that accumulated during the two weeks of on-again, off-again dockworker strikes last month as rail and trucking operations in the region begin to return to normal.
“Steady progress continues to be made since July 13, when ship, rail and trucking operations resumed,” the Port of Vancouver said to the Journal of Commerce.
After rejecting two previous agreements negotiated by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Canada and British Columbia Maritime Employers (BCMEA), union membership voted on Aug. 4 to accept the third agreement, ending the labor strife that had disrupted everything from carrier sailing schedules to land-side movement of freight.
Drayage operators at Vancouver, Canada’s largest port, are moving more containers than they usually do at this time of year, but gate times are normal and there is no significant congestion at the port’s near-dock rail yards, said David Earle, CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association.
“They’re busy knocking away at the high volumes,” Earle said.
The higher-than-normal volume of containers leaving Vancouver’s marine terminals each day is a result of the backlogs that built up during the strikes rather than any peak season crush of containers. TEU volumes year to date through July were 16.9% lower than the same period last year, according to the Port of Vancouver website.
Container volume at Prince Rupert was down 27% through July year over year, according to the port’s website. Since retailers are forecasting a muted peak season in the eastbound trans-Pacific this fall, Vancouver and Prince Rupert anticipate their operations will remain fluid in the coming months.
Port metrics positive
The vessel queues that developed in Vancouver last month have diminished. On Aug. 15, there were three container ships offshore, five at berth and one at anchor. Offshore container dwell times in August are currently averaging 3.2 days, compared to 5.8 days in July, the port said.
Rail container dwell times at Vancouver’s four container terminals vary from day to day. On Aug. 16, the average dwell time at the Vanterm facility was listed on the port’s website as three days or less, which is the desirable level, but at the other three terminals the dwell was generally five days or higher. In June, rail container dwell times through the entire port averaged four days.
Operating conditions at Prince Rupert, meanwhile, are back to normal.
“All backlog from the labor disruption has been cleared and the terminal is fluid,” a port spokesperson said on Aug. 16. “On-dock footage at Fairview (container terminal) has returned to normal levels and rail supply is healthy. There are currently no vessels waiting at anchor and vessels are being worked as they arrive. Dwell times continue to improve at the current production rate.”
Vancouver and Prince Rupert are trans-Pacific gateways serving inland rail hubs in North America including Toronto, Montreal and Chicago. A spokesperson at the Canadian National Railway said CN has cleared the backlog of containers at Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and that CN’s rail ramps in the interior are operating normally.
Canadian freight forwarders say their importer clients are not reporting any significant delays in taking delivery of containers.
“So far we are not hearing much from members,” said Julia Kuzeljevich, director of policy and regulatory affairs at the Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association. “Things are … quiet.”
Source: Journal of Commerce