Businesses and shippers on edge in wake of weekend port shutdown

Last week, KTVU met the nervous employees of Napa's Portocork, North America's dominant supplier of imported natural cork to the wine and spirits industries. Portocork was desperate to get any of its 17 long overdue sea containers holding almost 30 million Portuguese corks

Portocork President Dustin Mowe said that since Friday, he has finally received three containers. That is less than one-sixth of what he needs, but enough to prevent layoffs for a few days.

"It's an enormous backlog. A lot of these containers are delayed all the way since December," said Mowe.

With the wine bottling season now under way, an entire warehouse across the street from Portocork should be loaded with more than 15 million corks. But it's essentially empty because the containers haven't arrived.

"Anything leaving the factory in Portugal was to go to an alternate port," said Mowe, who has now routed his latest orders through the far more reliable Ports of New Jersey and Houston and then trucked to Napa at a far greater cost.

He's taking extraordinary steps at his own crushingly high cost so that customers that need corks immediately don't suffer.

"We've made the decision to bring some product over by air," said Mowe.

Given the enormous cargo back up, the shortage of available ships and containers, it may already be too late to prevent a port meltdown.

"It's crippling many, many different industries," lamented.

President of AB Trucking Bill Aboudi sees a complete lockout coming soon that will be similar to the last lockout 13 years ago.

"I could see it happening like 2002. We're going to be shut down for another 10 days until the government forces both of them into the cooling off period. I just don't see any hope right now," said Aboudi.

Even in the unlikely event the dispute is settled soon, experts say it will take three to six months to sort it all out.