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New Rules for Cargo Ships Entering Port of Oakland

In the coming weeks, the sight of cargo ships lined up outside the Port of Oakland will become visible only in our memories. In an effort to “reduce congestion, to promote maritime safety and minimize air quality impacts,” the Pacific Maritime Association, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association and the Marine Exchange have joined forces to create a “new off-shore queuing process.”

According to SFGATE, under the new rules, launched this week, instead of anchoring in the Bay while they wait for their turn at the dock, the 200,000-ton vessels will receive an assignment time and will remain in a newly designated zone, the “Safety and Air Quality Area,” which lies 50 miles off the coast.

San Francisco South Bay Ships
Scenes like this will become a thing of the past.
© 2022 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

The Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA) told SFGATE that the new system will “reduce emissions from vessels located near the Bay Area, and allows more space between vessels.” They expect that it will also allow the ships to “slow steam across the Pacific,” and thereby reduce their overall emissions.

The new system is already in use in Southern California at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and according to PMA President and CEO Jim McKenna, the system is a “resounding success.”

You can read the full story here.


  1. Doug Clark 2 years ago

    The new rules forcing ships to wait outside in the ocean will actually harm emissions, and at the same time create safety hazards for all marine traffic, big and small. Ships anchored in the Bay use very little fuel. At sea, they must maintain position by constant use of engines for propulsion. It may be true that there will be less pollution inside the Bay – but the total emissions driven by prevailing winds into the coast and central valley, will be far greater. And the ships will be subject to any storm weather conditions – conditions that can cause loss of containers into the sea. A drifting container is a hazard for any recreational boater as they often cannot be seen in time to avoid even during daylight.

    • John Kalucki 2 years ago

      Perhaps, but the ships have to run their generators at anchor anyway. Offshore LA/LB, they alternately clutch steam upcurrent, then drift downcurrent. I think the hope is that ships will slow steam across the Pacific to time their arrival more accurately — cutting total pollution somewhat in return. At the very least the pollution will be more out of the valley during the winter inversions we’ve been having the last few weeks.

    • Jon Stanton 2 years ago

      So for all the expert, armchair Captains out there forecasting doom on this plan, please explain why the Pacific Maritime Association, representing the actual shipping companies, would describe the actual results (not predictions) as a “resounding success.”?

  2. William Pryor 2 years ago

    I propose a new offshore race format: Participants rally at the Golden Gate Bridge. 5 mintues before start, an offshore idling ship is identified. Winner is the first to round the ship and return under the Golden Gate. Mega extra points if you can exchange some item with the ship’s crew.

  3. Vikas Kapur 2 years ago

    Agree with above comment..

  4. Bert 2 years ago

    What a stupid plan. How in the world does this reduce pollution?

  5. Captain Curt 2 years ago

    Resounding Success until ships collide while attempting to hold positions 50 miles out at sea in big waves.

  6. Bruce Brown 2 years ago

    Yes, but the Federal Government’s solution to the problem of bottlenecks in the ports is to move ships far enough away that the TV News cameras cannot get to them for nightly news broadcasts. There is little effort to actually develop solutions to the problems of increased shipments and increased quantity of ships calling on Western US Ports. This is compounded by the COVID related worker shortage among dock workers (reported to be 10% of the work force daily absent due to COVID illness or COVID quarantine) makes the problems even greater!

  7. Chris Barry 2 years ago

    First did slow steaming (then literally steaming) studies thirty or forty years ago. Especially with modern diesel ships slow “steaming” produces a substantial reduction in fuel use per mile. A rule of thumb is that energy use goes up with speed squared, but miles only goes up with speed.
    This is actually an under estimate because resistance goes down a bit faster than that and propellers are generally more efficient at lower speed.
    For this reason newer boxships are being designed to go slower, not faster. As an extreme example a typical patrol boat might have 5,000 HP to go 25+ knots but only need 200 HP to go 10 knots.

    This is also the reason why sailing cargo ships were/are possible at all – it doesn’t much power to push a ship at ten or twelve knots.

  8. Arnstein Mustad 2 years ago

    Great! Now even the Bay’s anchorage is woke!

    Slow steaming across the Pacific in winter? Then float around on a rolly-polly ship for 1-3 weeks while waiting in queue? Wow, where can I sign up for that job?

    And how is this going to improve harbor efficiency? It seems to me the delay times between a ship getting underway from Oakland and another ship landing in Oakland will increase due to built-in inefficiencies of logistics (i.e., time and distance).

    Besides, without the ships at anchor how am I going to be able to tell which way the current is flowing?

  9. George DeVore 2 years ago

    What about a berth reservation system administered 24/7 by port authorities? As soon as a vessel leaves port it sends a berth reservation request to its destination port. The reservation date-time received from the distant port authority then helps the captain and the vessel’s owners decide at what speed the vessel should best transit the ocean, saving fuel in many cases and obviating the need to loiter offshore at the destination port. No-shows and late arrivals could be penalized monetarily for delaying port operations (as demurrage currently works between shippers and terminals).

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