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Port Strike a Boon to U.S. Cities

by Fiona Anderson
Vancouver Sun, July 16, 2005

Seattle and Tacoma terminals will be allowed to accept containers originally destined for B.C.

The dispute between truck drivers and transport companies that has backlogged container traffic at Lower Mainland ports took on an international tone Friday as U.S. Customs issued a notice Friday telling Washington state shippers and terminals how they are to handle containers expected to be diverted from Vancouver.

Terminals in Seattle and Tacoma will be allowed to accept containers originally destined for Vancouver without satisfying tough customs rules, provided the ship is currently en route, Mike Milne, press officer with the U.S. Customs said in an interview.

The ship must also be scheduled to arrive in Vancouver on or after July 18 and must provide Customs with complete cargo information, Milne said. Customs officers will have the option of allowing the container to be off-loaded with or without an examination, or they can tell the ship it must keep the container.

Any containers not currently en route will have to satisfy Customs' "24-hour rule" which requires shippers to provide the U.S. with cargo information before it is loaded onto U.S.-bound ships.

The Port of Seattle is expecting to receive its first diverted containers this weekend, port spokesman Mick Shultz said. These containers will be stored at the terminal or at another storage site, where they will remain until the end of the strike.

"The idea is not to truck them to Canada," Shultz said. "The idea is to keep them here temporarily and once things are put straight in Vancouver put them back on the ships."

Terminal operators need all the space they have to handle their long-term customers, Shultz said. Devoting terminal space for container storage for non-local customers is quite a burden.

Impact from the three-week-old work stoppage, which has crowded Vancouver's terminals with stacks of containers destined for the local Vancouver market, is being felt across the country, the Vancouver Port Authority and Sears Canada said in a joint news release.

"What is essentially believed to be a local problem because it is the local market that is affected has now obviously stretched and become a national issue," Capt. Gordon Houston, president and CEO of the Vancouver Port Authority said in an interview.

"This situation is now making our customers -- some very important customers -- tell us that they are now looking for other gateways because Vancouver is becoming unreliable," Houston said. "This sort of thing gives us a terrible reputation."

Sears is now shipping its inbound cargo by rail to Calgary and Toronto, instead of by truck to its distribution centre in Port Coquitlam, Brian Gerrior, national manager with Sears said in an interview. Goods bound for Vancouver are then trucked back from Calgary.

At some point, rail traffic is going to get congested and that will affect the whole country, Gerrior said.

And as it gets more difficult to ship through Vancouver, importers are going to look for alternatives, Gerrior said.

"I think many companies now are looking at what can they do to avoid the Port of Vancouver," Gerrior said. "If business pulls away permanently then that doesn't help B.C."

Story continued but next page is no longer available on Vancouver website.

Fiona Anderson
Port Strike a Boon to U.S. Cities
Vancouver Sun, July 16, 2005

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