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Supply Chain Issues: Port Of Oakland Officials Issue Plea For More Cargo Ships To Unload

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- While freighters languish in the waters off the Southern California coast, Port Of Oakland officials issued a plea Tuesday to shipping companies, asking them to reroute their vessels to the docks of their massive facility.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are now running 24/7 operations on the orders of President Joe Biden, hoping to end the backlog of ships and their cargo which has led to nationwide shortages and raising consumer prices.

UPDATE: Gov. Newsom Issues Executive Order to Alleviate California Port Congestion

Still, freighters are backed in a holding pattern off the coast. That's not case in Oakland, the West Coast's second largest shipping facility.

"There's no congestion at the Oakland seaport, and we're ready for more business," Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said in news release. "We need ocean carriers to reinstate services in order to stabilize the supply chain, and our import and export partners echo this sentiment."

The Port said containerized cargo volume is up 4.2 percent in 2021 but insisted there's capacity for more. That's in stark contrast to Southern California ports where up to 70 ships daily wait at anchor for berth space.

Oakland officials said the port has not experienced vessel backlogs since August.

According to port officials, 54 vessels stopped in Oakland last month -- the lowest vessel call total since 2015. As a result, September import volume declined 13 percent from September 2020. Exports were down 18 percent.

They also insisted that import cargo would be available for pick-up within days of discharge from ships. That hasn't been the case at some ports where congestion has trapped import containers for weeks.

"We have capacity in Oakland that needs to be put to use," Brandes said.

Port spokesperson Robert Bernardo says the worker shortage has been solved and cargo vessels can now be turned around in 24-48 hours. But the companies are still sending their ships to wait in Southern California instead, sometimes for weeks.

"It all started in the summer when we did have a shortage of longshore workers. And that's when the vessel skips started," said Bernardo.

"It's a habit, you know?" said Bernardo. "Once one ocean carrier skips, then another one will skip."

It's a habit with real-world consequences, said John Lee, President of SW Logistics, a shipping company based in Oakland.

"I just had all of my shipments in November cancelled because there's so much backup in L.A.," he said.

Lee says the Southern California ports are too important to skip. So, after a long wait, the Asian ships don't want to take the time to come to Oakland to transfer cargo and pick up empty containers.

"If they just drop everything in L.A. and pick up empties and bring them right back to Asia, that will be a faster turnaround," said Lee. "They can squeeze in one or two more turnarounds per container per year and they're going to make that much more money."

But things are looking up in Oakland. Two companies have agreed to send ships directly to the port without making any other stops. Bernardo told KPIX once they show confidence in Oakland, others will follow. Because in the American supply chain, there is only one objective.

"In the shipping industry, velocity is the key word here, making sure you get the goods to the store shelves in time," he said.

So now the Port of Oakland is putting out the call for more cargo. And if it can show that it's faster, it will once again have all the business it can handle.

John Ramos contributed to this story.

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