Containers, Containers, Everywhere. A brief history of the Port of Los Angeles

Posted by PortVision

The bustling, modern Port of Los Angeles and neighboring Port of Long Beach have the largest container port by volume in America. Part of the San Pedro Bay, the region has a very rich history dating back over a century.


The desolate San Pedro Bay marshland area was first mapped and documented in October of 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer. By 1769, Spain began colonizing the West Coast and a trading post, run by Spanish missionary monks, was established for the sole purposes of trade with Spain. But that trade restriction did not last long as other countries took up commerce in the area, and by the mid-1800s, when California became the 31st state of the United States, business was booming. In 1907, the Board of Harbor Commissioners came into being which launched the official Port of Los Angeles.

With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, business took another major upturn and over the ensuing years, the Port was widened and dredged to accommodate more vessel traffic and other infrastructure activities kept the Port growing. The World Cruise Terminal was opened in 1963 and other milestones followed, such as the building of the Terminal Island Container Transfer facility that opened in 1986, and in 2004, the Port became the world’s first port to provide Alternative Marine Power(AMP or shore power).

Over time, the Port has also concentrated heavily on environmental initiatives. In 2006, its San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) was jointly launched with the Port of Long Beach in order to work on reducing harmful vessel emissions and later, the Port of LA set about lowering truck emissions through its Clean Truck Program.

In fact, for 2014, the CAAP is dedicated to further reducing emissions below those of 2005. That means trimming an additional 22 percent off NOx, 93 percent off SOx and 72 percent off DPM emissions – in this area, the CAAP hopes to be cutting 85 percent of DPM emissions by the year 2020.

The voluntary Environmental Ship Index Program provides vessel owners/operators with incentives to reduce vessel emissions and adopt cleaner technologies. Additionally, a voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction Program, which was established in 2001, proposes vessels reduce speed to 20 nautical miles when they are nearing Point Fermin.

The Port employs over 700 people in a variety of positions. And the Port’s harbor pilots play a key role in the operational chain of command. In fact, pilots have been working in San Pedro Bay as far back as 1907. Today, close to 30 professional pilots with an average of 33 years maritime experience, expertly usher hundreds of vessels in and out of the harbor every year.

Waterborne and land police units are also crucial to the Port’s success. They ensure local, state and federal laws are observed in addition to marine and environmental regulations. Officers are responsible for a wide range of duties that include patrolling and monitoring cargo, passenger and miscellaneous vessel activities. Additionally, the Maritime Law Enforcement Training Center, which trains both the local and state law enforcement workforce, is the first of its kind in the U.S.

Looking ahead, an aggressive 2012-2017 Strategic Plan for the Port outlines various initiatives that will see more improvements and upgrades with its Capital Improvement Program as well as other projects such as optimizing land use, advancing the Port’s industry-leading sustainability ventures and advancing the inclusion of community and stakeholder participation.

From its small beginnings in the age of sail to the 21st century, the Port of Los Angeles has grown to 24 passenger and cargo terminals that sprawl out over 43 miles of waterfront and 7,500 acres of land. It now handles more than 7.9 million TEUs annually, generates jobs across the country for over three million people, and is poised to continue its voyage of success well into the future.

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Posted on Feb 5, 2015 2:28:29 PM

Topics: Blog