OAKLAND, Calif. — The Port of Oakland, a major container ship facility in the San Francisco Bay, may soon help reduce the massive backlog of cargo ships waiting offshore along the West Coast.
Oakland, a key U.S. port for the import and export of agricultural goods, has for months been plagued with a shortage of sailings, logistical and infrastructure challenges and most recently, a ship in the port is under investigation for allegedly rupturing an oil pipeline.
Due to crisis backlog levels, a few major trans-Pacific carriers have suspended calls in Oakland over the past year. Agricultural exporters in California's Central Valley have been pleading with carriers to bring back more ship capacity — and finally, those calls are being answered.
Attendees at the Agriculture Transportation Coalition's virtual convention this week received good news about the port: Ocean Network Express, a major Japanese shipping company, will soon reinstate service to Oakland, meaning more ships will be available. The port is also getting a significant infrastructure boost, including more dockworkers and four massive new cranes.
"This is really breaking news, great news," said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition, which represents U.S. agriculture exporters.
Friedmann said the changes came about after exporters and importers who were "desperate to get the service back to Oakland" worked together in a series of recent meetings culminating in an appeal to Ocean Network Express that was answered Wednesday night.
"The responsiveness in 10 days to that appeal is record-setting," said Friedmann.
Ocean Network Express, or ONE, agreed to reinstate service to the Port of Oakland starting Nov. 15.
Maria Bodnar, ONE's senior sales director for North America, told attendees at the conference that since Nov. 15 is still a month away, ONE in the meantime will bring at least three ships to the port — "rescue vessels," she called them — to increase sailings until full service resumes.
“(ONE) wants to make clear to this community that the Oakland market is very important to us, to our business and to supporting your business," said Bodnar. "So, we're going to continue to work with our terminal partners and our vessel alliance partners to continue to do our best to contribute valuable improvements to your supply chain."
Friedmann thanked Bodnar for her help in increasing capacity. These new developments, he said, will help farmers across the U.S., including growers in the Midwest, Western U.S. growers and major meat companies like Tyson, Cargill and JBS.
The ability of carriers like Ocean Network Express to bring in more ship capacity was made possible by new infrastructure at the Port of Oakland. The port recently hired more dockworkers and installed new cranes: three in one area and a fourth at a different berth. The cranes are expected to ease collection of cargo ships in the bay waiting to unload and get re-stacked.
Leaders at this week's conference, however, said the Port of Oakland's improvements are just one piece in a much bigger and continuing puzzle of global shipping challenges.
"There's no silver bullet here that's going to resolve all of our issues," said John Wolfe, executive director of the Northwest Seaport Alliance.