Next month, shipping giant AP Moeller-Maersk will make a move that would have been unlikely a decade ago. A line of 6,000-container ships that now goes to Southern California will dock in Seattle instead...For years, the Los Angeles container harbor and its adjacent port in Long Beach had a stranglehold on U.S. imports, serving as the point of entry for goods headed as far as Chicago and Miami. Together, the two handle four out of 10 containers that come to the U.S.
But container volume at Los Angeles was down 6% in 2008 and fell 32% in February from a year earlier. The hub of roughly 42,000 jobs is preparing for possible midyear budget cuts, and many longshoremen are working part-time. Other ports have seen large declines, too.
This drop in volume comes just as ports from Portland, Ore., to British Columbia are rolling out new infrastructure in a bid to grab more of the container business...
Prince Rupert Port in British Columbia was once a site for shipping timber and pulp out of Canada, but it reopened in 2007 to service container vessels from Asia. The port makes the case that with its rail connections, lack of urban congestion and shorter distance from Asia by sea, it shaves a day or two off of transport to places like the Midwest. "We service the heartland of North America," said Don Krusel, president and chief executive of the port. "We're 99 hours to Chicago, 133 hours to Memphis" by train. Mr. Krusel said the port, which handled roughly 180,000 containers last year, will expand its capacity to two million containers by 2014...And major interruptions at the Port of Los Angeles -- including a West Coast lockout of dockworkers in 2002 and a large backup at the port in 2004 -- made companies wary of working exclusively with Los Angeles.