There’s no labor agreement in sight for West Coast ports. And recently there have been short unannounced work stoppages by the unions.
I’m thinking these work stoppages are trial balloons. The major union at the ports, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), may be trying to gauge the impact of a stoppage on the ports. We all know that the ocean shipping market is weak, and in addition quite a bit of container traffic has moved away from the West Coast ports, to the East Coast. So volumes are down at the West Coast ports.
It’s possible that cargo volumes are so light that a full strike will jeopardize the ports’ business. A sizeable reduction in container traffic would reduce the demand for longshoremen and union workers. They don’t want to kill the golden goose. A mini-trial would tell them whether the ports would be severely hurt by a strike. Otherwise the ports might say “Go ahead and strike!”
I think that is why the US government is loath to intervene yet. Continuing to negotiate might be the best way to get an outcome everyone can live with.
Here’s an innovation that’s going to be popular at container terminals. It’s a fixed set of frames allowing containers to be stacked in individual pigeonholes. They’re placed and removed by stacker cranes running through the aisles. The system has been in development and testing since 2018.
Hardware innovations take a long time to develop, and they require a place for testing. The partnership of DP World and SMS Group, a German firm, combined the expertise and the need and test bed to create the product.
Stacking density may be improved up to 4 times using the Boxbay system.
This is not a new idea. Auto manufacturers and shippers have been using such arrays to store cars since the 90’s. I was shown a picture of one in Japan by Ernest Konigsberg, a Berkeley operations research professor who was familiar with the design and the optimizing software written to decide which locations to place vehicles. We would call it AI today, but then it was simply optimization software. It’s been around a long time.
An interesting question is why this technology is only emerging now. One answer is the Great Congestion about the time of the COVID epidemic. Yard storage was a significant problem during the supply chain crisis. This kind of system can improve the utilization of scarce container yard land. It’s a natural type of tech to invest in.
I’m sure we will see more such systems if container shipping demand comes back and exceeds the congestion period levels. But if ports aren’t handling so many containers, they may not be so eager to invest in this technology. I don’t see the large US ports jumping on this so soon, with traffic falling.
The article has a nice picture of Pusan Newport terminal, and judging by the stacking disarray in the right part of the picture, they can use this system1
Green shipping corridors are the latest effort to create strategies for ESG compliance, particularly environmental, for the global shipping industry. These corridors are starting to show up in the planning stages. The intent is to create a connected system of ports that have all the improvements necessary to allow those ships using it to achieve a high level of compliance with green shipping standards.
That means the availability of fuels that meet international green standards such as those of IMO 2022, as well as green technology for loading and storage of containers and other products; and yard equipment that meets green operating standards.
Of these perhaps ensuring the availability of the fuels required is the most challenging. Availability alone is not enough; the price must be competitive, and sufficient storage must be in place; and long-term availability must be assured. The variety of fuels now under consideration for green ocean transport is a challenge. In addition to LSFO, some ships will soon require green methanol; major players such as Maersk and CMA-CGM are investing in methanol-powered ships. And recent studies have shown that fuels can burn greener, but the means of their production and storage have to be included in the fuel evaluation. An interesting study of this was made by Bureau Veritas (BV), a classification society, which described in detail the greenness from well to wake of a wide variety of power options from biodiesel and HS/LSFO to methanol and ammonia. Not all of these are easy to make and store.
So infrastructure will be incredibly important for the green corridors.
Some newly-announced corridors start from Singapore, which already has a large fuel infrastructure, and is a globally important financial center for dealing in fuels. That will be a tremendous advantage. European ports like Rotterdam and American ports like New York already have quite a bit of financial and storage infrastructure. These ports are already part of announced green corridors. However, even at these developed ports some of the alternative low emissions fuels are not available, nor is there the handling capability present.
The interview with the CEO of GCMD casts useful light on what’s needed.
Prof Lynn Loo, CEO of GCMD, in an interview at TOC Asia.
Much of the focus in decarbonising shipping is on the vessels, however, without developing landside infrastructure projects such as green corridors cannot take off.