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Port of Oakland import volume hit new record in 2021

Emissions inventory shows Port exceeded air quality goals

Supply chain snarl dropped export totals 8 percent

Oakland, Calif. – January 20, 2022: Containerized, loaded import cargo volume hit a new record at the Port of Oakland in 2021. The Port today reported that it handled the equivalent of 1.05 million 20-foot import containers in 2021. That was the most in Oakland’s 94-year history and 6 percent above 2020 totals.

Image of Port of Oakland import volume hit new record in 2021

Record import volume was achieved despite supply chain misery that plagued ports worldwide. Late-arriving ships, canceled voyages, and weeks-long delays at some ports hampered freight movement. Oakland’s 2021 export volume declined 8 percent year-over-year because of the disruptions. The Port handled a total of 2.4 million twenty-foot containers in 2021.

“We’re gratified that our import business remained strong,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes. “Our emphasis now is on overcoming supply chain challenges that have hurt our export customers.”

Bryan Brandes

The Port said unprecedented U.S. consumer spending drove last year’s import surge. Shipping lines devote more energy and resources to imports because they’re better paying. The Port blamed the drop in exports on supply chain challenges:

As cargo waits and costs climb, Port of Oakland seeks shipping solutions


  • Voyage cancellations reduce the number of ships able to move exports overseas; and
  • A cargo container shortage for exports.

One number in the Port’s year-end cargo report underscored the dichotomy in supply chain impact. Oakland reported that 55 percent of its 2021 cargo loads were imported; only 45 percent were exported. Historically, Oakland’s business split 50/50.  

The Port predicted more disruption in 2022 as trade growth continues to outpace supply chain capacity. Oakland responded with two announcements: 1) a queueing system for arriving ships, and 2) an exclusive empty container yard for exporters.

Oakland said it’s collaborating with shipping lines to restore vessel services suspended in 2021. Some carriers skipped Oakland because of crippling delays at Southern California ports, the Port explained. Services began returning by the fourth quarter, the Port said. It added that it’s lobbying to recoup the remainder of this year. According to the Port, more vessel calls would mean greater opportunities for exporters to reach overseas markets.

On another side, The Port of Oakland staff announced the findings of the 2020 Seaport Air Emissions Inventory at Thursday’s meeting of the Oakland Board of Port Commissioners. Inventory results show that the Port surpassed all its original goals set in the maritime Air Quality Improvement Program(MAQIP).

The Port and its partners successfully reduced diesel particulate matter emissions (DPM) by 86% over 2005 levels. The goal was an 85% drop in DPM. Nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions were cut by 40% and sulfur oxides were slashed by 95%. All these reductions were beyond the original goals.

Richard Sinkoff - Port of Oakland

“This huge reduction in harmful emissions is a tremendous achievement,” said Port Director of Environmental Programs and Planning Richard Sinkoff. “The Port, its partners, and the community worked together for more than a decade to improve air quality and support public health through major investments, innovation, and commitment.”

MAQIP was the Port’s comprehensive Master Plan to reduce harmful emissions from maritime operations at the Oakland Seaport, setting 2005 activity as the baseline for comparison and 2020 the final year for reaching the goals.

The 2020 Seaport Air Emissions Inventory included six categories of mobile sources: ocean-going vessels, harbor craft such as tugboats, cargo-handling equipment, on-road trucks, locomotives and other off-road equipment, such as construction equipment.

“The Port exceeded all emissions reduction goals set in 2008 in the Port’s Maritime Air Quality Policy Statement,” said Port Environmental Planner/Scientist Tracy Fidell. “Reductions for harmful emissions were achieved despite an increase in cargo volume.”

Container throughput at the Oakland Seaport was almost 8% higher in 2020 than in 2005. “The Port is moving cargo more efficiently and generating fewer emissions per container compared to Year 2005,” added Tracy Fidell.

Port officials recognized BAAQMD (Bay Area Air Quality Management District), WOEIP (West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project), CARB (California Air Resources Board), trucking companies, marine terminal, rail, and tugboat operators, ocean carriers, and the local community for all coming together and working diligently to fulfill the commitments outlined in MAQIP.

“Zero emissions at the Oakland Seaport is our next goal,” said Richard Sinkoff. “In 2019 we established the Seaport Air Quality 2020 and Beyond Plan; it provides us a pathway to eliminating harmful emissions from maritime activities.”

About the Port of Oakland

The Port of Oakland oversees the Oakland Seaport, Oakland International Airport, and nearly 20 miles of waterfront including Jack London Square. The Port’s 5-year strategic plan – Growth with Care – pairs business expansion with community benefits, envisioning more jobs and economic stimulus as the Port grows. Together with its business partners, the Port supports more than 84,000 jobs. Connect with the Port of Oakland and Oakland International Airport through Facebook, or with the Port on Twitter, YouTube, and at

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