Bigger ships may be using the newly widened Panama Canal, but they’re not bypassing Oakland to get there. The Port of Oakland said today that wider canal locks have not dented its business.
According to Port data, Oakland vessel traffic has gone up since the Canal got bigger June 28. The trend refutes warnings that larger ships would detour around the U.S. West Coast given Panama access.
The Port said it received 310 vessel calls in July and August. Those were the first two months of operation for Panama’s enlarged waterway. During those same months in 2015, only 276 ships visited Oakland. That means the Port’s vessel traffic has increased 12 percent, year-over-year, since the canal expanded.
Oakland cargo volume has increased, too. The Port said July and August were two of its three busiest months this year for container-handling. It said there’s been no sign of cargo attrition due to the Panama Canal.
“Our customers need an Oakland gateway – not one thousands of miles away,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll. “Our job now is to keep them here with good service.”
The Port said it’s not insulated from Panama’s competitive threat. It added, however, that Oakland has advantages making cargo migration to the canal unlikely. They include:
Local market concentration: More than 80 percent of containerized imports discharged in Oakland remain in Northern California or Nevada. That cargo wouldn’t benefit from a Panama Canal option.
Export orientation: Half of Oakland’s cargo is containerized exports. There’s no shorter route to markets in Asia than through Oakland.
Much of the nation’s import cargo is discharged at Southern California ports, then transported east by rail. The Panama Canal provides an alternative to those gateways: direct access to U.S. East Coast ports.