Fourteen container ships are anchored around Puget Sound, waiting to be unloaded as contract negotiations for West Coast ports continue in San Francisco.
Container traffic through the Port of Seattle was up 1.1 percent in January compared with the same month last year, while the Port of Tacoma saw a 25 percent decline during the period.
It is the first time in almost a year and a half that Seattle moved more cargo through its port than its former rival Tacoma.
The two reported their cargo statistics together for the second month since announcing the Seaport Alliance — the joint management of their marine-cargo operations.
In January, ships carried 226,906 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) through the Puget Sound Gateway, down 13 percent from the same month last year.
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While Seattle moved 119,684 TEUs through its port in January, ships carried 107,222 TEUs through Tacoma — the lowest since February 2012, according to port records.
Issues related to ongoing contract negotiations between the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) and International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) began affecting cargo movement at U.S. West Coast ports on Halloween. Since then, container traffic through Puget Sound has continued to decline — specifically in Tacoma.
Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina has said one possible reason for Tacoma’s sharp decline but Seattle’s increase is that a handful of ships that would normally call at both ports have only been stopping in Seattle since the backlog began.
As of Wednesday, 14 container ships were anchored around Puget Sound; before Halloween, it was rare to have a single container ship at anchor, said Capt. John Veentjer of the Marine Exchange of Puget Sound.
“This has been going on a lot longer than the lockout back in 2002,” he said. That was 10 days, and this whole congestion issue has been dragging on for months.”
The ports continue to press the PMA and ILWU to resolve the impasse in contract negotiations, which started in May.
“While the ports do not have a seat at the negotiating table, we have been exercising the limited options available to try to mitigate impacts on our customers and to keep cargo moving,” the ports said in a joint release.
U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez arrived in California on Monday at the president’s request, to urge both sides to come to a quick agreement.
Gov. Jay Inslee spoke with Perez by telephone Tuesday and told him the dispute has created significant economic hardship in Washington.
“This impasse has dragged on way too long and is playing havoc with international trade, an essential component of Washington’s economy,” Inslee said in a statement. “I understand there are important issues at stake, but it is time to settle before any more damage is done.”