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Ports on Both Coasts Wrap 2023 Below Year-Earlier Levels

The Port of Los Angeles handled 747,335 containers in December, a 2.5% year-over-year increase. However, the facility's volume was down 12.9% for all of 2023. (Port of Los Angeles)

Posted on January 24, 2024

The nation’s port leaders say that while container volume was down in the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico facilities, overall trends for 2024 are pointing up.

In December, the Port of Los Angeles processed 747,335 containers compared with 728,871 year-over-year for a 2.5% increase. The port saw a 12.9% decline for the entire year, moving 8,634,297 20-foot-equivalent containers (TEUs) compared with 9,911,158 in 2022.

“In 2024, our sights are set on community investment, sustainability progress and capturing additional market share,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said, also announcing a 10-year, $2 billion plan to upgrade the port, including projects to improve freight efficiency and continue decarbonization efforts.

While most of the talk is positive, there are concerns in the industry over the Houthi militant attacks in the Red Sea and their impact on shipping. Turmoil in the Middle East has ramped up just as business appeared to be returning to normal, four years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus.

The Houthis, backed by Iran, have been targeting cargo ships for several weeks, causing concerns over the safety of moving goods through the Red Sea. The U.S. and Great Britain are among nations that have taken military action to keep the critical shipping lanes open.

The Port of Long Beach reported a 30.4% year-over-year increase in December, processing 709,819 TEUs compared with 544,104. For the year, Long Beach reported a 12.2% decrease to 8,018,688 containers compared with 9,133,657 in 2022.

Like Los Angeles, Long Beach has hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades planned over the next 10 years, especially in expanding short- and long-distance freight rail in and out of the port and efforts to reduce emissions.

The Port of Oakland reported a 6.1% year-over-year increase in December, processing 176,013 containers compared with 163,027. However, the Northern California port was down 11.6% to 2,065,709 in 2023 compared with 2,337,607 a year earlier.

As 2024 began, the port announced a new partnership with Chantilly, Va.-based Parsons Corp. to launch the Freight Intelligent Transportation System at the facility, which the port says will move cargo more efficiently and securely regarding truck and rail access.

The system uses artificial intelligence, video and data analytics to monitor and predict freight wait times and develop predictive models around road blockages at train crossings. The data also will be used to create customized dashboards for custom border protection and port shipment tracking.

“The launch of the Freight Intelligent Transportation System is a bold new step forward for the Port of Oakland,” Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said. “This gives us real-time visibility on goods movement.”

On the West Coast, the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the port alliance operators who run the joint facilities at Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., did not have container figures available at press time.

Port Houston rebounded in December with an 11% year-over-year increase, processing 325,020 containers compared with 293,844. The port finished 2023 down 4% to 3,824,600 TEUs compared with 3,976,718 in 2022’s record-setting year.

“2023 was another remarkable year, and we were pleased to end the year so strong,” Port Houston Executive Director Roger Guenther said. “As we begin 2024, our eye is on making continued strategic investments to facilitate larger vessels and more of our region’s cargo.”

Officials say the extensive widening and deepening of the Houston Ship Channel will see a major phase finished this year when work is complete on the waterway to the Bayport Container Terminal. The portion to the Barbours Cut Container Terminal is planned to be finished in 2026.

Bryan Brandes

Bryan Brandes

South Carolina’s Port of Charleston closed the year with December down 4.5%, processing 209,494 containers compared with 219,351 in 2022. For the year, the complex finished 11.1% lower — 1,372,843 compared with 1,544,162 in 2022. However, the end-of-year numbers were equal to 2019, three months before the global onset of the pandemic. Officials also point to more than 20% growth of TEUs being moved by rail, which is a significant future growth area.

The Port of Virginia reported it processed 268,107 containers in December, a 2.1% dip from 273,965 year-over-year.

The port processed 3,287,546 containers for all of 2023 compared with 3,703,230 in 2022, an 11.2% decline. However, port officials point out that when measured against 2019 — before the start of the pandemic — year-over-year volume is up 11.8%.

Georgia’s Port of Savannah will announce its report for December and the full year at the port authority’s board meeting Jan. 30.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey typically runs a month behind other ports in reporting volume numbers. In November, that facility processed 644,439 containers compared with 723,069 in the same month in 2022.


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