Last year might not have been the bottom for cargo volumes at the Port of Tacoma.
New figures from this year’s first five months show critical cargo numbers below the same period in 2009, port commission members learned Thursday.
Port officials told port commission members it could be five to eight years before business returns to its pre-recession peaks.
Those new figures show total container units handled by the port through the end of May total 556,509, a 14.5 percent drop from the first five months of 2009. That relatively large drop was in large measure because of the move of Maersk Line, one of the port’s larger customers, from Tacoma to the Port of Seattle last year. Maersk moved its operations because it consolidated some of its routes with those of CMA CGM, which was a Port of Seattle customer.
But even without the effect of the Maersk move, volumes would have been down, said Brendan Dugan, the port’s senior director of container terminal business.
Last year was a bad year for the shipping business worldwide as consumer demand fell sharply. At the Port of Tacoma, container volumes were down 16.9 percent for the year. But business has continued falling this year. Container volumes totaled 125,527 in May, for instance. A year earlier, the container numbers were 144,320, statistics show.
The auto import business, which has adjusted its production and shipping schedules to be more of a just-in-time operation, has reduced its numbers, the port said. The port handled 61,100 vehicles through May this year compared with 68,381 through May last year. That’s a 10.6 percent decrease.
Grain exports were off 5.1 percent through the year’s fifth month as a wet spring kept volumes down. Break-bulk cargo also was down with 33,384 tons handled through May, a 21.2 percent drop from 2009’s figure through May. Dugan said the large military cargos handled last year haven’t been duplicated this year. Total tonnage handled at the port thus far is off 11.4 percent, port figures show.
But activity might trend upward during the second half of the year, Dugan told commissioners at their twice-monthly meeting Thursday. Two major customers, K Line and Evergreen, are restoring some service and using larger ships. The port also has begun exporting logs again, he said.
OTHERS ON COAST
While Tacoma’s numbers are still lagging, some other West Coast ports have seen traffic returning.
At the Port of Seattle, May container volumes, aided by the Maersk move, were up 57.4 percent. At California’s Port of Long Beach, container traffic was up 4 percent in May. In Los Angeles, the port reported a 19.94 percent increase in May 2010.
In 2007, the Port of Tacoma handled 1,924,934 container units. By last year, that volume had dropped to 1,545,855.