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California ports celebrate a merry Christmas

Excerpts from the San Francisco Chronicle:

This Christmas appears to be a very merry one for Southern California’s port-related industries.

Eighteen months ago, Panama opened its newly enlarged canal, one that can now handle ships carrying up to 14,800 containers, triple the size of previous vessels, and there were fears that Southern California’s ports would suffer a loss of Asian trade to East Coast ports.

Shipping data indicate, however, that while East Coast ports are seeing significant increases via the Panama Canal, they appear to be largely diversions from the Suez Canal rather than shifts from Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Both ports have reported strong increases in “20-foot equivalent units” or TEUs, the basic measurement of container traffic, since Panama opened its enlarged canal. Los Angeles, for example, has seen a 6.25 percent increase this year through November over the same period of 2016.

One reason the ports have not seen losses is that their leaders saw the peril posed by Panama’s enlargement and invested many millions of dollars in upgrades.

The long-term viability of Southern California’s trade sector is still in question. Ship traffic still could shift elsewhere and automation could erase much of its workforce.

Cost-cutting robots already are replacing workers in warehouses and handling containers in ports, but full automation faces stiff opposition from dock worker unions — a battle that’s beginning to be waged in the Capitol.

San Francisco Chronicle


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