Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port Of Los Angeles. Photo via Port of LA

OPED- Who Put Gene Seroka In Charge Of National Maritime Policy?

John Konrad
Total Views: 2161
November 7, 2021

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Is the Port of Los Angeles, and its Executive Director Gene Seroka, too big to fail? Last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg moved to inject $5 billion in taxpayer loan money to help alleviate the congestion in the Port of Los Angeles, making this one of the largest government bailouts in maritime history.

“Our supply chains are being put to the test, with unprecedented consumer demand and pandemic-driven disruptions combining with the results of decades-long underinvestment in our infrastructure,” Buttigieg said in a statement. “Today’s announcement marks an innovative partnership with California that will help modernize our infrastructure, confront climate change, speed the movement of goods, and grow our economy.”

It is unclear what will be done with this money but, for context, $5 billion is well over twice the pricetag of the 20 million TEU first phase of Singapore’s new Tuas Mega Port which will soon become the world’s largest container terminal. Many have argued that further development of US ports and shipyards is impossible due to incredibly high waterfront real estate prices in the US. There is some truth to this argument considering that, on a per-acre basis, Los Angeles real estate is the sixth most expensive in the world but… Singapore is number two. Others have argued that building infrastructure in California is impossible due to very strict environmental regulations. Well in Singapore even chewing gum is highly illegal.

And what about the environment? Rather than put a shipping expert in charge of the US Maritime Administration (MARAD), Biden has appointed a small port environmentalist with zero shipping experience. What will she do once MARAD realizes that backlogs are already contributing to significantly higher levels of toxic emissions near the Port of LA? What will 24/7 truck operations and other temporary fixes paid for with the billions of Buttigieg’s band-aid money do to California’s pristine ocean environment? Not to mention the large oil spill that already occurred under Seroka’s watch.

Also Read: Biden Appoints US Maritime Administrator With Zero Shipping Experience During Worst Shipping Crisis In Decades

Not only do Buttigieg, Seroka, and MARAD lack a plan for the bailout money but they also fail to understand the simple fact that the problem is not a localized issue. The shipping crisis is a global issue affecting ports around the entire world yet all of the focus is on California. This fact proves it’s not a Port of Los Angeles crisis or logistics crisis, it is a global SHIPping crisis. How much of that $5b will be given to MARAD, the entity charged with ‘Supporting the technical aspects of America’s maritime transportation infrastructure — things like ships and shipping, port and vessel operations, national security, environment, and safety’? Well, MARAD’s top administrators have not even visited Los Angeles and have not issued a single press release about the crisis.

And where is the global entity responsible for solving international maritime crises, the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO)? They have been mostly silent too and their director of external affairs, the former US Coast Guard Rear Admiral Fred Kenny, has been noticeably absent from the White House discussions.

The leadership void left by MARAD and IMO has been filled by Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, who is not only accepting billions in bailout money but is also driving national policy with the full support of the White House, which will pump significantly more money into a region that’s already failing miserably to clear containers, who’s beaches are awash in oil residue, who’s children are inhaling toxic smoke, and which is void of a strategic plan. With Biden’s full support, Seroka has implemented charges on uncollected containers. Beginning last week, Seroka started charging customers who do not pick up cargo on time – delays due to the inefficiencies and failures at the port itself – will be charged $100 per container, increasing by $100 increments each day beyond the allotted times, the ports said in a statement announcing the new measures. According to maritime expert Mike Schuler, under Seroka’s “Container Excess Dwell Fee” plan, a single container stuck in the port 100 days past the grace period will be charged $505,000!

It is not just money that the Biden administration is pouring into the Los Angeles region, it’s enormous amounts of political capital. On yesterday’s episode of What’s Going on With Shipping, with maritime expert Dr. Sal Mercogliano – Chair of the Department of History, Criminal Justice, and Political Science, former merchant mariner, and instructor of Maritime History, Security and Industry Policy – he discusses the inordinate role that the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are having on the nation’s supply-chain crisis, along with the new White House blog on the crisis. Mercogliano also delves into some possible solutions and options to exert control over the ocean carriers.

Billions in taxpayer money may, in fact, be needed to solve this global shipping crisis but it is clear that Seroka, and Mario Cordero – his counterpart at the neighboring Port of Long Beach – can not solve this at the local level alone. If the White House wants to fix this problem they need to engage the global maritime community and employ real shipping and logistics experts like Mercogliano, Flexports’ Ryan Peterson, Fortis’ Ross Kennedy, former World Economic Forum Ocean Chairman Nishan Degnarain, Freightwave’s Lori Ann LaRocco and Timothy Dooner to name just a few.

Or we can just ask Signapore what experts they hired to do the seemingly impossible with about half the bailout money Pete Buttigieg offered Gene Seroka last week.

Also Read: Biden Appoints US Maritime Administrator With Zero Shipping Experience During Worst Shipping Crisis In Decades

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