Port of Oakland Gains 2 New First-Call Container Shipping Services

Matson Lines and Wan Hai Lines have each introduced first-call services at the Port of Oakland, meaning the shipping lines are now making their initial U.S. stop the Northern California seaport after sailing from Asia.

Taipei-based Wan Hai Lines commenced its new service Aug. 8. Called the AA5, the route links Oakland with three Asian ports: Kaohsiung, Ningbo and Qingdao. This follows the July 27 launch of an Oakland-China first-call service operated by Matson Lines.

The new Matson service calls Chinese ports in Ningbo and Shanghai and makes stops in Long Beach and Honolulu after visiting Oakland. According to the Port of Oakland, the service departs from China three out of every five weeks.

“Matson is a big part of the port’s business and we’re gratified that they want to expand our relationship by opening a Northern California gateway to China,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director Bryan Brandes said. “The fact that it’s a first call underscores the importance cargo owners place on Oakland.”

Honolulu-based Matson, known in Oakland for mainland U.S.-to-Hawaii service, operates China routes from Southern California. Its new CCX service reflects exploding U.S. demand for imports from China.

Oakland has now introduced three first-call services in 2021 after going years without one. It attributed the trend to aggressive marketing and a burgeoning Northern California economy.

“We’ve worked hard to make Oakland an attractive first stop for international shipping lines,” Brandes explained. “We’re pleased that ocean carriers and cargo owners are recognizing the value of a Northern California trade gateway.”

Since first-call ports are where container carriers discharge the bulk of U.S. imports, they’re valued more by importers because they provide more immediate access to cargo.

Until this year, Oakland-bound ships stopped in Southern California first before sailing north. Due in part to first-calls, the port says it will likely break its annual cargo handling record this year.

Oakland has also said that first-calls have strengthened its position in the discretionary cargo market. Cargo destined for the U.S. interior can enter the country at any West, Gulf or East Coast port. Discretionary containers are usually discharged at the first U.S. stop, then shipped inland via rail. Oakland has said it has ample rail capacity to ship import loads to the interior.

The port also stated that importers increasingly target the Oakland trade gateway because Northern California consumer demand is strong, adding that e-commerce retailers have established distribution centers near the port. First-call service hastens delivery to consumers of goods produced overseas, the port explained.

Data show that Oakland is currently on pace to handle 2.6 million containers in 2021, which would be an all-time annual record for the port.