Port Congestion a Growing Problem

Posted : 12/13/12 12:01 PM

Port congestion can be compared to the sort of stop and go conditions that take place when too many cars crowd onto a single stretch of road. Traffic slows, the line of cars keeps backing up further. Everyone’s time is wasted. The same thing happens with ships in ports that are congested. They have to line up and wait for a spot to open where they can dock and unload their cargo. Ports have more limitations than highways, however, when it comes to congestion. They cannot simply expand to accommodate more ships the way highways can handle more cars. Creating more docking space will not help if the cranes and the crews that operate them do not also increase at a similar rate. The bottleneck may lie in inadequate access roads or rail lines to move freight in and out of the port. Lack of warehouse space seldom seems to be the problem, but numerous other infrastructure shortfalls can be involved. Port congestion can be temporary in nature if a calamity of some sort has affected the port’s normal operation. Storms and other weather events can damage the facilities, which will slow cargo handling until repairs are completed. Industrial accidents and fires can also play a role. There may also be a sudden surge in imports or exports that cause ship traffic to suddenly mushroom. Structural congestion is the perennial problem that comes from the increase in global trade. Many ports simply lack the infrastructure to handle the increasing amount of traffic they are being asked to bear. The problem can be compounded if the administrative staff is likewise lacking in numbers to handle cargo matters. There are security concerns, environmental restrictions, and various sorts of taxes to be levied. All of this falls under the category of Customs, and requires extensive trained personnel to handle. To ease congestion, ports around the world are rapidly being expanded. From Antwerp to Zanzibar, this work is underway. New breakwaters are being built. Dredging is allowing ships with deeper drafts to berth. More container cranes are coming online. New terminals and dock are being developed. Transit lines to and from ports are being upgraded to accommodate more trucks and rail cars. All of this is still not enough, so new ports are being built from scratch. China has several underway, as does Columbia. These two countries are working in tandem since they ship enormous amounts of materials to one another. Columbia is seeking to be an access point for much of South America’s exports to China and other Asian destinations.