- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Business leaders at the Port of New York and New Jersey say the global economic crisis is slowing activity at the East Coast’s largest port complex.

For the first time in 15 years, the key measure of annual container traffic there fell, according to data released Friday by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. The number of 20-foot equivalent units moving in and out of the port complex dropped by less than 1 percentage point to 5.27 million units in 2008.

The modest decrease was driven by steep declines in the final two months of last year.

Don Hamm, who runs the Port Newark Container Terminal for Ports America Group at the complex, said the slowdown is intensifying.

“I’ve been in the business for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Hamm, a Ports America executive vice president. “It’s extremely painful.”

The number of loaded 20-foot equivalent units being exported from the port complex plunged 25 percent in December, while imports dropped 11 percent, according to the Port Authority. November exports were down 10 percent and imports fell 4 percent. Twenty-foot equivalent units are a standard unit of measurement for cargo containers, which come in a variety of sizes.

The steel containers are piling up around the port complex because of the decline in exports.

“This is one more indication that the Port Authority is not recession-proof,” said Chris Ward, the agency’s executive director.

Hamm estimated that 10 percent fewer containers and roughly half as many vehicles moved through his 178-acre terminal during the first two months of this year than the same period of 2008. The terminal typically handles about 670,000 vehicles and 500,000 containers a year, he said.

The Port Authority report comes at a time of increasing unemployment. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in New Jersey, home to most of the facilities that comprise the port complex, rose to 7.3 percent in January from 6.8 percent.

Sluggish shipping activity is idling longshoremen. Walter Arsenault, executive director of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, said 472 deep sea longshoremen went without work in February _ a 55 percent increase from the same month last year.

The port complex has 2,200 deep sea longshoremen, according to the waterfront commission.

Arsenault said his agency is now seeing days when 500 deep sea longshoremen _ nearly 25 percent of the work force _ are available but not employed.

Arsenault said he expects the slowdown to intensify once China begins to feel the reduction in global demand more deeply. China accounts for more than 40 percent of exports at the port complex, he said.

Trucking companies at the port complex are really feeling the slowdown, according to Jeffrey Bader, president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers. The Port Newark-based organization represents 124 trucking companies that operate at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Bader estimated they haul about 70 percent of the truck-borne cargo moving in and out of the port complex.

“Across the board, we’re seeing at least a 30 percent reduction in volumes,” Bader said. “Survival is the issue for our members now.”

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