PortsDHS asked to help shield Port of Hueneme from the effects of sequestration

Published 15 March 2013

The Port of Hueneme is the only deep-water port between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Sequestration-related budget cuts mean the port’s six CBP and two Department of Agriculture inspectors can no longer work on Saturdays, or work overtime. This means that ships arriving at the port now have to wait outside until inspectors are available – at a cost to carriers of between $25,000 and $50,000 per day depending on the size of the ship. Port authorities and local businesses are worried that it will not be long before carriers direct their ships to other ports.

Representative Julia Brownley (D-California) has asked DHS secretary Janet Napolitano for urgent help with sequestration-related budget cuts which would affect the Port of Hueneme. Brownley says the cuts would affected the port’s ability to run smoothly.

The Port of Hueneme is the only deep-water port between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and is being used for importing and exporting  cars, fish, fruit, and military cargo. The port injects more than $1 billion into the regional economy per year.

The Ventura County Star reports that on Tuesday, Brownley asked Napolitano for “sufficient resources for Port Hueneme to prevent these costly (cargo inspection) delays.”

Both Brownley and Representative Lois Capps (D-California) wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) last week informing him of the situation.

The port currently does not have a flexible schedule. U. S. Customs and Border Protection inspections have been delayed, and dockworkers are being paid to sit around before being able to unload ships.

As a result of the federal budget cuts, customs officers which screen incoming cargo and vehicles can no longer work Saturdays  or overtime hours. The port currently has six customs inspectors and two Agriculture Department officers. 

Weather issues will keep an incoming ship from arriving this weekend, saving the carrier about $40,000 in costs.

“We escape this weekend, but it will be a problem for sure,” port executive director Kristin Decas told the Ventura County Star. He is calling the situation a “crisis.”

According to Decas, if a foreign ship is arriving outside the new schedule, it must wait until the next customs shift in order of unload their cargo.

“The idle time costs money in crew, bunker fuel, vessel operations, etc.,” Decas told the County Star. “This can run between $25,000 and $50,000 per day depending on the size of the ship.”

Decas wants to meet with Carlos Martel, the director of the U.S. customs agency in Long Beach, to discuss the situation, as Martel has the power to change the schedule.  Decas has also pushed for Oxnard harbor commissioners to join the fight.

Decas, along with the commissioners, will be in Washington, D.C. next week and has arranged meetings with elected officials to plead their case.