PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The long-vacant Portsmouth Marine Terminal was crowded with lines of parked, new SUVs late last week, ready to be trucked to dealerships.
The foreign-made vehicles would have normally been unloaded at Newport News Marine Terminal, but Hampton Roads port officials needed to find extra space because that facility is full after a car-carrying vessel was rerouted from the Port of New York-New Jersey because of Hurricane Sandy.
"We've got in excess of 5,500 cars at Newport News, and 3,500 of those vehicles belong in New York-New Jersey," said Joe Harris, a spokesman for the Virginia Port Authority.
Earlier this week, workers drove cars off of the vessel Hoegh Oceana, which normally calls on Newport News.
Hampton Roads ports also saw an additional 6,500 containers diverted from New York, but Harris said it has been easier to move the boxes along to final destinations in the New York region, and in a smaller percentage of cases to the Midwest.
"At week's end we expect to have all the New York-New Jersey containers cleared," Harris said.
The vehicles are slower to move and officials expect more of a backlog because the cargo must be moved on car-carrying trucks, and typically vehicles are detailed first at the docks.
"It'll take at least a month," Harris said, to clear the New York-New Jersey vehicles. He said the normal flow of cars and SUVs into Hampton Roads will continue at a normal pace, even if that means using the Portsmouth facility.
It takes between 50 and 75 dockworkers an average of four hours to unload a car carrier, and a local International Longshoremen's Association member said the additional vehicles had provided some extra hours and pay, but not a significant boost.
But New York-New Jersey is not at full strength after Sandy, and problems linger at that port complex, especially for truckers. More cargo could flow to Hampton Roads and other East Coast ports as New York recovers.
A diesel-fuel shortage in New York and New Jersey has made life hard for truckers in that region, and compounding the problem the Journal of Commerce reported extensive flood damage to chassis — the trailers many trucking companies rent to move containers.
Still, diverting cargo to other ports is an expensive solution for importers, one that New York companies would rather avoid.
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