Commissioners Bentzel and Sola visit PNW to explore port congestion & cruise industry issues
Federal Maritime Commissioners Carl W. Bentzel and Louis E. Sola traveled to Washington state the week of November 15-19, 2021, for meetings with port, maritime, and the cruise industry stakeholders to discuss pandemic-related impacts to those sectors and the broader issues of port competitiveness.
While in the Pacific Northwest, the Commissioners met with local Coast Guard leadership and toured the Puget Sound to assess the impact of containerships anchored there waiting for access to the ports. During a site visit to the Port of Tacoma, the Commissioners toured the port, met with Port Commissioners and Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) Chief Executive Officer John Wolf to examine challenges of providing warehouse capacity near the Port of Tacoma.
“I am concerned that the backlog of cargo in our harbors and the lack of transparency clogging our supply chain could be a contributing factor to rising inflation,” said Commissioner Bentzel. “It’s important that we address port congestion and increase container velocity, and the ports of Seattle and Tacoma are critical entry-points for our Nation’s commerce.”
In Seattle, the Commissioners toured a cruise facility followed by a cruise roundtable hosted by the Port of Seattle and chaired by Commissioner Sola. The Pacific Northwest is the fourth largest cruise region in the country, servicing an average of 1.4 million passengers annually. At the roundtable, stakeholders discussed the steps taken, in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control, to bring the cruise industry back. Representatives from Congress, the Governor’s office, and the City of Seattle also weighed in on the challenges and opportunities of better coordination in working through the pandemic.
“The success of the 2021 Alaska and Seattle cruise seasons is a testament to the hard work and cooperative efforts of many individuals in the public and private sectors who understood the need for ships to again sail. Cruising is an important part of the tourism sector for any port city, but for many communities in Alaska, it is their economic lifeline. I applaud all those who focused on finding solutions to get this industry operating again in the Pacific Northwest. I know there are countless small business owners and working families dependent on cruise-related income that share my appreciation for the public policy priority this issue became,” said Commissioner Sola.
Finally, Commissioner Bentzel hosted a roundtable with the NWSA on examining regional port congestion issues. They were joined by Congresswoman Kim Schrier, who represents agricultural interests and manufacturers in her district. Stakeholders representing trucking, rail, pilots, and the terminals also participated and contributed to the conversation. The conversation focused on what needs to be done now to improve the velocity of freight through the port complexes. This centered on better coordination of information and efficient ways to share information as well as needed infrastructure investments. The NWSA and the Ports of Long Beach and Oakland released a report earlier this fall that studies the investment that the Canadian government has made into their maritime assets as compared to federal investments made to the West Coast ports.
The Commissioners released a letter on November 12, 2021, raising concerns about maritime assets being sold to foreign entities, and the potential impact on the proposed sale of a U.S. rail line to a Canadian rail line, and concerns about the potential impact on U.S. and regional port competitiveness.
“As a country, we need to fully appreciate our maritime assets. We saw during the pandemic that the industry continued to provide essential services, even as other industries and transportation sectors such as aviation had to shut down. Maritime was able to continue because it connects our economy with our communities. I think that the public would be stunned to find out how many vital U.S. industries are dependent on our overseas maritime trade. I hope that as Nation, that this is a wake-up call,” said Commissioner Bentzel.
Commissioner Bentzel will begin a series of meetings in December that will focus on supply chain transparency aimed at establishing standards for information that should be shared to the shipping public. The Commissioner’s work on the project will culminate in a maritime data summit to be held in Spring 2022.
Commissioner Sola will soon be releasing the final report for Fact Finding 30.
Carl W. Bentzel and Louis E. Sola are Commissioners with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission. The thoughts and comments expressed here are their own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Commission.