Homeland Security de-funding poses new potential shutdown for U.S. ports

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) -- The exceedingly slow re-start of cargo operations at the Port of Oakland was scheduled to ramp up seriously Tuesday as thousands of desperate shippers and receivers await their containers, but another looming snag could bring everything to a dead stop.

The huge Hanjin Long Beach container ship pulled into Oakland Tuesday after an extended stay in anchored in San Francisco Bay. Its waiting dock was ready as cranes worked other ships down the line.

That was a stark contrast from Monday when crane operators went to a union meeting instead of going to work.

"It's a 100 percent improvement over yesterday. We actually have containers that have been made available for us to pick up and the trucks are moving in and out," said AB Trucking owner Bill Aboudi. AB exclusively services the Port of Oakland, the nation's 5th largest shipping point.

However, the usual wall-to-wall complement of trucks picking up and dropping off containers was not here Tuesday.

"Everybody's doing a soft start, so you don't see too many trucks here at the port yet because there's uncertainty," explained Aboudi.

While an incoming ship is certainly a sign of progress, the problem at the Port of Oakland is there are at least 17 more vessels waiting in the Bay or circling outside in the ocean. That's true at all U.S. West Coast ports.

"The working hours at the port are 8 to 5 and that needs to be increased to be able to dig through this backlog," says trucker Aboudi.

At Oakland-based Paramount Export Company, a produce export specialist, recovery is still far away.

"We've got some food products that loaded about three weeks ago. These are short shelf life food products and they're going to Hong Kong and the shelf life has pretty much run out," said Nick Kukulan of Paramount Export.

For most of the last two weeks, Paramount has not been able to send anything overseas, most importantly Washington State Apples from its Seattle facility.

"And basically now we starting to lose out to the southern hemisphere: Chile, New Zealand, South Africa, which are actively shipping their new crop," said Kukulan.

Another crucial point: containers aren't just containers. Since 9/11, they've seen a serious security risk that cannot be ignored. The threatened defunding of the Department of Homeland Security as Congress bickers is yet another looming threat that could slow recovery from the backlog.

Each and every incoming container must be inspected and x-rayed by Customs personnel for potential terror threats. Without Customs, no cargo leaves the port. Yet another issue is the re-positioning of massive container ships so some semblance of keeping a schedule can eventually be achieved.