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Behind The Numbers: Wilmington Port Fields Global Supply Chain Disruptions

By Johanna F. Still, posted Dec 17, 2021
While billions in goods sit anchored outside the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, six of the Port of Wilmington’s eight weekly services have been arriving on time with no scheduling difficulties. These steady routes are coming from Central and South America and Europe.
 
Local hiccups are occurring in the Wilmington port’s two Asian trans-Pacific services, according to Brian Clark, executive director of the N.C. State Ports Authority. These routes utilize neo-panamax vessels – the largest the port is equipped to handle.
 
“It’s not just a port issue that’s leading to these backlogs,” Clark said. “There’s so much more that goes into it: load ports, staffing levels, equipment imbalances, the overall fleet capacity.”
Despite local scheduling hurdles, global supply chain disruptions might present the Port of Wilmington an opportunity to nab carriers frustrated with backlogged traffic at larger facilities, Clark said.
 
On the East Coast, the trans-Pacific vessels typically make a first stop in New York, New Jersey or Savannah, before arriving at a secondary port like Wilmington.
 
The Savannah port is handling 500,000 20-foot equivalent units (or TEU, which essentially represents one cargo container) each month; Wilmington’s port saw about 324,000 TEUs over the latest entire fiscal year, which ended June 30.
 
That total set a new record for Wilmington, with container volume up 2% from fiscal year 2020. Volume is up 39% since fiscal year 2017.
 
Container volume is on par with last fiscal year and slightly down from forecasted expectations at the Wilmington port. However, general cargo volume (goods delivered without the use of containers) is significantly on the rise, Clark said. Some of this material is likely volume that would otherwise be bound to containers, but due to a lack of equipment or space, has been reoriented. The redirection is caused in part by the global shortage of containers and vessels equipped to ship them.
 
“There’s a lot of review in the industry,” Clark said, “as a best means to get the cargo to the endpoint.”
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