N.Y. Port Gridlock Eases as Freight Computers Modified

Cargo bottlenecks are easing at the Port of New York and New Jersey, the busiest container port on the U.S. East Coast, as Maher Terminals LLC scales back a new computer system blamed for snarling freight shipments.

Service at Maher’s facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, has “returned to acceptable levels,” according to a statement from Maher and Navis LLC, the technology company responsible for the cargo-handling system. Some of the automated elements of the system now on hold will be added back later, the companies said.

Maher, which handles a third of the port’s volume, introduced the system in June to boost efficiency. Instead, the computers often shut down, forcing the terminal to close for hours at a time, Jeff Bader, president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers trade group, said today by telephone.

“The worst days were in the early part of June when they turned the system over,” said Bader, who is also chief executive officer of Golden Carriers Inc. in New York. “The truck lines were four to six hours on a good day and the drivers just waited in line. It was a nightmare. It was a horror show.”

A phone message left with Maher’s offices in Elizabeth for comment beyond the July 31 joint statement on port gridlock wasn’t returned. Andy Barrons, chief marketing officer for Oakland, California-based Navis, said “software was not identified as the root cause of the issues.”

Peak Season

The congestion began as retailers entered the peak shipping season spanning back-to-school sales to the holiday rush at year’s end, said Jonathan Gold, vice president of supply chain and customs for the National Retail Federation. In a July 30 letter, the group urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New York Shipping Association to work with terminal operators to resolve the congestion.

New York backlogs forced many retailers to consider other ports and shipping methods to ensure their goods made it to stores in time, Gold said today by telephone. He said Baltimore and Norfolk, Virginia, were the other destinations of choice.

“They’re looking at using other ports on the East Coast,” Gold said. “Or air cargo from other distribution centers to make sure they have products on the store shelves so a consumer doesn’t walk in the door and see an empty shelf.”

Maher shifted volume from its Elizabeth terminal to the other five terminals at the port while it worked through the computer issues, said John Nardi, president of the shipping association, which represents terminal operators including Maher.

Terminal Tie-Ups

While Maher’s operations are improving, the other terminals are still struggling with road congestion and cargo backlogs, Nardi said.

“When Maher sneezes, the port catches a cold,” Nardi said. “When they have a problem it tends to impact everybody because of their size.”

Maher was acquired by Deutsche Bank AG in 2007, while Navis is a unit of Helsinki-based Cargotec Oyj.

The Port of New York and New Jersey ranked No. 24 in global container volumes in 2012 and No. 3 in the U.S. behind Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, according to the World Shipping Council trade group. A telephone message left today with the Port Authority for comment about Maher’s setbacks wasn’t returned.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the port bottlenecks earlier today.

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