Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Regional Report: San Francisco Bay Area


In January the largest vessel to call at the Port of Oakland to date, the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, heralded a growth in export volumes for the port nearly each month of the year, including a three-year high in October. Photo courtesy of the Port of Oakland.

Like all businesses, the five seaports located in the San Francisco Bay Area – Oakland, San Francisco, Redwood City, Richmond and West Sacramento – have their ups and downs from time to time.

But with 2016 being a year of economic growth in the US, there seemed to be more ups than downs for at least four of the five ports.

Officials with Oakland, San Francisco, Redwood City and Richmond all told Pacific Maritime Magazine that for the most part, things seemed to be on the upswing during the year. For example, despite Oakland losing a terminal operator to bankruptcy, Outer Harbor LLC, formerly known as Ports America Outer Harbor, the port has still managed to see increases in both imports and exports compared to last year.

And although the expansion of the Panama Canal was expected to drain business from some of the smaller ports on the US west coast, Redwood City and Richmond each report no significant volume losses.

Here's a closer look at the various Bay Area ports and their performance during the year.

Port of Oakland

At the Port of Oakland, change and growth are probably the two words that best describe 2016. One form of growth was reflected in Oakland's export volumes, which grew nearly each month of the year, including a three-year high in October.

Import volumes were also strong; July 2016 was the busiest month for cargo in 10 years at the port; it handled the equivalent of 223,619 TEUs that month, the most since it lifted 227,996 in August 2006.

Also, operating revenue for the port's fiscal year ending June 31 was $338 million, making it a record year for the port. The amount was up 0.4 percent from the previous record of $336.6 million, set in FY 2015.

Port data show that Oakland's exports were up 10.2 percent through the first 10 months of 2016, while imports rose five percent and vessel calls were up 27 percent.

"These increases are in spite of the June opening of wider Panama Canal locks," Oakland Communications Director Michael Zampa reminded Pacific Maritime Magazine.

Additionally, container terminal operator and stevedore TraPac in October revealed plans to nearly double its marine terminal size at Oakland. The company, which handles 20 percent of the containerized cargo moving through the port, currently manages two vessel berths and 66 acres of land.

Under the new agreement, it would have four berths and 123 acres, with much of the land used for cargo handling. The expansion, which was scheduled to begin in late November, is expected to take about 10 months.

But despite the growth, diesel emissions from drayage trucks serving the Port of Oakland keeps falling. The amount dropped 98 percent between 2005 and 2015, and ship emissions fell 75 percent during that same timeframe, according to an annual emissions inventory released by the port in October.

In July, the port debuted a new, $100 million near-dock rail facility located in the port's Outer Harbor Intermodal Terminal area, the site of a former US Army base. The new tracks were designed as part of a strategy to enhance the port's intermodal capabilities: the port has said it wants to attract more discretionary cargo that's not local to the region and can be shipped through any number of seaports in the US, Canada or Mexico.

Also this year, Oakland debuted night terminal operations when in April, Oakland International Container Terminal launched night gates, aided by a $1.5 million port subsidy program. Once the subsidy ended, the terminal elected to keep the night hours and even offer full operations at night, instead of the previous partial operations.

In May, a port app that tells drivers how long they'll wait to enter marine terminal gates and how long transactions are taking made its official debut at the port. The free DrayQ application was developed for the port by Virginia-based contractor Leidos. It relies on Bluetooth, GPS and Wi-Fi technology to measure truckers' progress through the port.

The app anonymously tracks every truck in the port whose driver carries a cell phone, and displays how long it takes to enter terminal gates, as well as calculate how long drivers must wait to complete transactions.

The times appear on mobile phone screens much like freeway drive-time signboards.

The new technology, if widely adopted, has the potential to fundamentally change seaport operations because for the first time, truckers and dispatchers have a precise measure of how long a terminal transaction takes. If it's too long, drivers can plan around slow periods.

Port of San Francisco

Across the bay in San Francisco, the city's seaport, which has traditionally focused on passenger traffic – specifically cruise ships – made a big leap into the cargo traffic area in 2016, via a revival of Pier 80, its 69-acre cargo terminal on the southern waterfront.

In August, the port inked a 15-year lease agreement with Pasha Automotive that allows the import and export of vehicles by ship at the terminal.

Port officials said they believe the Pasha agreement could transform Pier 80 from an underutilized asset to a thriving marine terminal creating new revenue for the port and significant economic and employment benefits for the city.

In addition to the about 69 acres of cargo laydown space, Pier 80 contains two warehouses and four deep-water berths.

Since Pasha's entrance in August, Pier 80 has employed about 50 longshore workers during vessel operations; as automobile processing reaches capacity, it's anticipated that 150 new employees could be hired and trained and that Pier 80 could receive about 96 ships per year, shipping roughly 150,000 vehicles.

"Without a doubt, the addition of Pasha Automotive has been the most significant business development at the Port of San Francisco during 2016," the port's maritime marketing manager, Michael Nerney, told pacific maritime magazine.

"As far as expanding our shipping and trade operations we have our Pier-96 facility available and are looking at opportunities to utilize it for other types of cargo – i.e. breakbulk, dry bulk, autos," marketing manager Brendan O'Meara said.

In other San Francisco news, the port in April was awarded a

$4 million grant to expand capacity at its main Ferry Terminal from four to six berths. The money is part of an award of about $59 million for passenger ferry projects and ferry operators throughout the United States, issued by the US Department of Transportation's Federal Transit Administration.

The port also received more good news in October, when after seven months, a new permanent director was appointed.

Elaine Forbes, who had been the Port of San Francisco's interim director since March, was appointed to the job permanently by Mayor Edwin Lee in October. Forbes replaced former executive director Monique Moyer, who resigned in February to accept a position as a senior managing director with a commercial real estate company.

Port of Redwood City

At the Port of Redwood City, located 18 nautical miles south of San Francisco, tonnage and vessel calls were pretty much flat from the previous fiscal year, according to data.

Tonnage declined slightly by five percent for the year that ended June 30, according to port data.

That being said, the total tonnage was still the third highest at the port over the past 10 years at 1,637,682 metric tons. The port, which is the only deepwater facility of its kind in the South San Francisco Bay, specializes in bulk, neo-bulk and liquid cargoes. It says the FY 2016 total tonnage figure reflects the continuing strong demand for construction materials in Silicon Valley and the South Bay, particularly high quality sand and aggregates shipped to Redwood City from British Columbia.

"There's continued strong demand for construction materials through the port; that's our biggest group of dry bulk commodities," port Executive Director Michael Giari told Pacific Maritime Magazine. "Construction materials such as aggregates from Canada for concrete, gypsum and other bulk commodities."

"The demand is coming from the construction industry in South San Francisco Bay," he said. "There continues to be strong, steady demand for construction materials in the South Bay and Silicon Valley."

The approximate percentage breakdowns by commodities for FY 2016 were: imported sand 45.5 percent, imported aggregates 29.4 percent, exported scrap metal 14.2 percent; bauxite ore 4.2 percent; gypsum rock 4.4 percent; domestic sand 1.8 percent, and ground iron slag 0.5 percent, port data reveals.

Port of Richmond

At the Port of Richmond, Director Jim Matzorkis told Pacific Maritime Magazine that in 2016, his port was fortunate enough to begin generating new commerce at an old facility.

In August, the Port of San Francisco inked a 15-year lease agreement with Pasha Automotive that allows the import and export of vehicles by ship at the port's Pier 80 terminal. Photo courtesy of the Port of San Francisco.

"We have a new business where we're receiving logs from California forests and exporting them to China," he said. "Our Terminal 3 has been underutilized and now it's being fully utilized."

The arrangement has been in place for about a year now, he said.

Richmond considers itself northern California's most diversified cargo handler. It has roots in petroleum and liquid bulk cargos, but has expanded its dry bulk and breakbulk cargo handling capabilities, plus has increased its automobile processing facilities.

West Sacramento, which doesn't import or export containers, primarily handles bulk cargo and automobiles. The port currently ranks first in liquid bulk and automobile tonnage among ports on the San Francisco Bay.

"The tonnage is up in all sectors, particularly automobiles," Matzorkis said, remarking that car imports from Japan did well this year. "The volumes have risen with the strong economy. With good auto sales, our auto volumes continue to grow."


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