The Port of Stockton said Wednesday it has selected Seattle-based SSA Marine, a large global operator of marine cargo terminals, to manage a dedicated facility created for a new barge service that will haul export and import containers to and from the Port of Oakland, 75 miles away on the San Joaquin River.
The container-on-barge service has been in the works for more than three years, but port officials now anticipate opening for business in early spring. The M-580 service ("M" for marine highway) is supposed to reduce congestion and diesel emissions by taking trucks off the I-580 and I-5 interstate highways. The Central Valley is a major agricultural region and port officials say shippers will be able to move much heavier loads by barge to Oakland, where they will be transferred to ocean-going vessels for export to Asia, than they can on weight-restricted highways. About 1,600 containers per day are estimated to move between the ports of Stockton and Oakland each day.
The Port of West Sacramento is also part of the endeavor.
SSA Marine is tasked with managing container handling and storage, marketing and logistical support for the operation. The port authority is acting as the prime contractor, and will provide the barges and arrange for a tow operator.
|Port of Stockton Crane
After several fits and starts, the Stockton port authority earlier this year took over management responsibility for the entire project after an outsourcing effort went awry.
It originally signed a turnkey contract in late 2011 with Salt Lake City-based Savage Cos. to oversee and manage the marine highway service, as well as drum up business from shippers. Several weeks ago the Port of Stockton canceled Savage's concession agreement
, with officials saying the regulatory coordination among government entities with jurisdiction over the project posed too many difficulties for a private company.
The three ports won a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to get the program off the ground, plus $3.2 million from regional air quality boards. The Port of Stockton used its portion of the money to buy two 140-ton Liebherr cranes, modify a berth area, purchase two used barges and modify them with cell guides to handle containers.
SSA Marine offers stevedoring, rail yard operations, trucking, warehousing, technology implementation, and other transportation services in ports in North America, Central America, South America and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the World Shipping Council, which represents international container lines operating in the U.S. market, is trying to confirm whether the M-580 barge operator plans to verify the container weight and share the information with the appropriate ocean carriers and terminal operators at the Port of Oakland to ensure the safety of longshoremen, crane operators and vessels at sea. WSC President Chris Koch said several requests for clarification during the past 15 months have gone without response.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require every outbound loaded container delivered to a marine terminal to be weighed for its actual gross weight at the terminal or elsewhere prior to being loaded on a vessel.
In a letter to Deputy Port Director Mark Tollini, dated Feb. 13, WSC said its members wanted to ensure they received accurate information about export containers because the barge service is being marketed as an alternative for shippers with heavy cargo that exceeds road limits when fully stuffed in a container.
"Accordingly, the receiving ocean carriers in Oakland will want assurances that they have accurate, verified weights of any containers that your service will be transporting from Stockton to enable them to be sure that they are operationally prepared, that accurate container weights are used in the preparation of their vessel stow plans, and that the shipment will comply with any applicable container weight requirements in the destination jurisdiction," the letter said.
"Clearly addressing this issue at the outset of operations would be advisable from regulatory compliance, safety, operational, and marketing perspectives. It would also avoid the need to double weigh the box when it is in Oakland, which would impose a cost and operational penalty on any containers carried on the planned service - a penalty that we would expect the new service and its customers would want to avoid." - Eric Kulisch