Amid Freight Congestion, Matson Launches Fast-Boat Service To Oakland

·4 min read

Matson Inc. is launching a new express vessel service into northern California Tuesday designed to help U.S. importers move stranded shipments from China as the ocean container market experiences ongoing bottlenecks that are doubling normal delivery times and leading to stockouts for retailers.

The China-California Express (CCX) will have a 12-day transit time from Shanghai direct to the Port of Oakland, with a Ningbo departure taking 14 days. The express service will also supplement the existing capacity Matson provides in Long Beach. The scheduled rotation is Ningbo-Shanghai-Oakland-Long Beach-Honolulu-Ningbo, the carrier said in a marketing sheet sent to customers.

Long Beach transit time is scheduled for 15 days from Shanghai.

Slots on the vessels, which went on sale July 16, are very limited and are expected to command extremely high rates.

Matson (NYSE: MATX) is redeploying three small vessels, two with capacity for 2,750 twenty-foot equivalent units as well as the 2,800-TEU Mahimahi, according to information provided by the company. Matson was able to free up capacity by pulling from reserve vessels and adjusting its schedule.

The CCX will depart three out of every five weeks from China until the Lunar New Year next February.

"I think it's going to be very well received. We have space on it," Craig Grossgart, senior vice president, ocean, at SEKO Logistics, told American Shipper. SEKO has left no stone unturned in trying to arrange freight transport for its customers, including reserving an entire vessel for several months.

But the benefit, which is limited to a small group of Matson's in-house clients, won't put a dent in the trans-Pacific eastbound logjam, said a trader who asked not to be identified for fear of harming business relationships.

"Customers who do not have a contract with Matson already will not be able to sign up with a new contract at this late stage and gain needed allocation. Also, Matson's vessel size is well below that of traditional carriers in this lane who typically operate 10,000- to 12,000-TEU vessels, and even move some 16,000- to 18,000-TEU vessels," the source said.

The CCX is Matson's third expedited trans-Pacific service. The Honolulu-based shipping and transportation services company has operated an express service from China to the Port of Long Beach for 15 years, and last year began a second service, the China-Long Beach Express Plus (CLX+), in response to a surge in consumer shopping for goods instead of services that overwhelmed shipping and port capacity.

Matson has a major advantage because it operates its own terminals and can give its vessels priority treatment while other shipping lines are still waiting up to five days for a berth at congested Southern California ports. It has the only exclusive-use terminal in Oakland.

The lack of dedicated terminals has undercut a couple of other express services during a period of severe congestion. Port-to-port moves are taking three to four weeks in many cases as ocean carriers contend with record volumes and operational challenges from weather to labor, according to analysts.

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CMA CGM in February started the Golden Gate Bridge service, a restructuring of an existing express service that bypassed Los Angeles and made Oakland its first port of call before heading up to Seattle. Many importers in Los Angeles use it to detour around port delays in Los Angeles/Long Beach and then hire trucking companies to bring the containers south. The service was popular with cargo owners until COVID outbreaks and precautions reduced the number of dock workers at ports, and container shortages and too much volume began to create huge congestion problems. Having vessels stuck at anchor for a week or more waiting for a berth eliminated the value proposition for many of having an express service.

Last summer, ZIM began an express container service from south China to Los Angeles because of the growing demand for goods during the pandemic and to support e-commerce vendors. The Israel-based shipping line pulled back spring plans to start an express service to Oakland when congestion flared up there.

Matson also has an edge because of its off-dock yards operated by Shippers Transport Express, a motor carrier affiliate of stevedoring firm SSA Marine in which Matson has a small ownership stake. Shippers Transport Express provides container shuttle service at West Coast ports. Under the arrangement, STE pulls containers from Matson terminals to less-crowded off-dock locations where businesses can send trucking providers to retrieve loads or pick up empty containers, freeing up space at the port and significantly speeding up truck turn times. As with its other express services, cargo will be available the next day at the inland drayage yard.

Logistics providers say picking up an ocean box in Southern California can take up to seven days, depending on the terminal.

Click here for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.

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