Major cargo carrier stops deliveries to West Coast ports

OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The long West Coast Port dispute took another ominous turn as a major cargo carrier said it's quitting shipping to the West Coast until May.

Worldwide container shipping giant Hapag-Lloyd announced Thursday that it's canceling most sailings from Asia to U.S. West Coast ports.

This new development is a truly ominous turn of events for the long-term prospects of the hundreds of thousands who make their livings at the port and many more who import and export through them.

On Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden talked up the importance of ports in Charleston, South Carolina - a port fully capable of receiving and dispatching container ships diverted from the West Coast.

"What most people don't know is that we are still the largest value added manufacturer in the World, the United Sates, bigger than China and we're growing and we're growing. So, we need this port and ports like it all over the United States of America," said Biden.

Meanwhile, here on the West Coast the Secretaries of Labor and Commerce continue trying to break the log jam and apparently canceled a planned 2:30 p.m. news conference.

"If a lockout or strike occurs, we know that we may permanently lose business to our West Coast ports. This business can easily go to Vancouver, to Mexico, to ports on the Gulf. This is serious," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.

The holdup is apparently not over money or benefits, but whether longshoreman can terminate grievance arbitrators they don't like, want, or have confidence in.

"We try, our very best, not to have non-economic issues be at the forefront of disagreement. We should be able to work that out," said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.

The Port of Oakland has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in making sure the port is equipped enough and dredged deep enough to handle the newest generations of ever bigger container ships.

"There are more than 70,000 jobs in the Bay Area that depend on the Port of Oakland. If this contract dispute isn't settled soon, shippers will divert their cargo to other U.S. gateways. When that happens, jobs here at the Port of Oakland and up and down the West Coast will be at risk," says Mike Zampa, the Port of Oakland's Communications Chief.

Many ships for big box retailers have already been diverted to the East and Gulf Coasts. Canada and Mexico are also picking up a lot of traffic.

Recovery here will be a long time coming.