The tumultuous changes in cargo volume from the COVID-19 pandemic ended with a flourish as the Port of New York and New Jersey recovered their first-half losses to end 2020 with a new container record of 7,585,819 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), an increase of 1.5 percent from 2019.
The pandemic led to vessel-call cancellations, sharp declines in factory production, and restrictions on nonessential business worldwide during the spring and summer of 2020. These actions spurred double-digit declines in imports at the port, resulting in losses of as much as 21.9 percent compared to the same period of 2019.
Through the pandemic, however, the Port of New York and New Jersey remained open and operational, working closely with port partners to keep commerce flowing.
In July, imports rebounded from a deficit of 3.2 percent to an increase of 7.1 percent just one month later, compared to the same months in 2019. The port then exceeded its monthly cargo volume records in September, October, and November by double-digit percentages.
October was the busiest month in the port’s history with 755,437 TEUs, while the fourth quarter of 2020 became the busiest quarter for cargo activity, up 19.1 percent from the same quarter in 2019.
To handle the cargo surge, the port quickly responded by coordinating with partners to extend daily gate hours and add weekend operations at the container terminals. In the final five months of 2020, the port handled the equivalent of eight months of cargo activity.
Overall, imports grew by 4.2 percent in 2020 to a record high of 3,946,326 TEUs, compared to 2019, while exports decreased 1.2 percent to 3,639,493 TEUs. The port also handled 469,529 vehicles in 2020, down 17.6 percent from 2019.
The Port of New York and New Jersey also set a record high for rail cargo in 2020 as 705,895 containers moved through the intermodal network, a 6.2 percent increase over 2019. The new record was posted during the first full year of operations for the fourth and final on/near dock intermodal rail terminal; ExpressRail Port Jersey.
Container vessels with a capacity of 9,000 TEUs or more called on the port in increasing numbers, raising their vessel call share by more than 14.5 percent than 2019. In 2020, three 15,000-TEU ultra-large container vessels entered the Port of New York and New Jersey, including the 15,072-TEU-capacity CMA CGM Brazil, the largest container ship to call on the U.S. East Coast. The 2017 completion of a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey infrastructure project to raise the Bayonne Bridge to a navigational clearance of 215 feet and the deepening of shipping channels to 50 feet made allowance for these larger ships.
The record cargo activity amid the challenges of the pandemic highlighted the hard work and dedication of the port’s partners.
“From the terminal operators to the International Longshoreman’s Association to the railroads and truck drivers, chassis and container depot operators, each day, thousands of workers reported to work to keep the supply chain moving,” said Sam Ruda, Director of the Port of New York and New Jersey. “They showed up to unload ships, work trains and drive the trucks with crucial supplies to be distributed to supermarkets, medical facilities, and food production factories around the region, all to keep business as usual during a very unusual and challenging year. We cannot thank all the Port industry stakeholders enough.”