Ports & Terminals

SSA’s DeNike’s farewell speech separates substance and form

Ed DeNike, President of Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) Containers, gave his last report to the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) where he was honored for his fifty years of service.

At AgTC’s Annual Meeting on May 22nd in Tacoma, Washington, AGTC Executive Director Peter Friedmann introduced DeNike by somewhat humorously attesting to his value as a resource: “The reason we moved this meeting from California four years ago to Tacoma was because we’re about 28 miles from Ed’s home. And that’s how we get Ed here …”

SSA Containers operates eight terminals on the West Coast which represent 25% of the West Coast ports’ man-hours.

In his remarks, DeNike said the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are losing container business in part because U.S. railroads charge $300-400 more per container than Canadian rail rates. This provides a cost advantage to neighboring Canadian ports such as Vancouver: “You can’t blame shippers if they can save … on a container.”

Railroads and Congestion

In October of 2021, DeNike also cited the role of U.S. railroads in precipitating the congestion crisis at U.S. West Coast ports.

DeNike challenged a massive outpouring of anger and frustration directed at West Coast ports, container terminals, and longshore workers for the traffic jams of ocean-going ships waiting to unload at ports because of the surge of Covid-related demand for goods.

DeNike defended longshore workers and terminal operators who he said worked courageously during the pandemic to unload and load containers and were not responsible for the congestion crisis.

DeNike said the congestion problem “...started several months ago by the fact that the railroads [Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Union Pacific (UP)] simply could not keep up with the volume that was coming through the West Coast.”

In addition, DeNike said imports stored at container yards contributed to the congestion crisis: “Those are the imports that are going local. They are not being picked up… We’ve had big shippers keep containers on our docks for 30/40 days…”

Substance, Form, and Informed

At AgTC, participants have looked forward to DeNike’s West Coast ports review because, as Friedmann noted, DeNike may not have been telling people what they wanted to hear but he attempted to provide exporters, growers, and truckers with honest and factual information.

During his AgTC presentation, DeNike was asked about which digital projections he used to plan for the arrivals of ocean carriers and their unloading and loading of containers at SSA terminals.

DeNike responded that he did not depend on digital tools but rather on actual evidence that a ship was headed to its berth.

This type of response resulted in some younger attendees making light of DeNike’s traditionalist approach and lack of digital tool analysis.

In that sense, DeNike made clear that he prefers dealing with real-life analysis rather than digital and electronic analysis.

In that regard, DeNike would find himself in agreement with the ancient Greek philosopher Plato who argued in his famous work Republic that form should not proceed with substance.

Plato cited people imprisoned in a cave thinking that the reflections of their shadows on walls were reality. When some people escaped the cave to see the light and substance of the outside world and returned to the cave, their imprisoned colleagues refused to believe that there was a real world outside the cave.

In today’s world, with AI in the wings, Plato’s warning of confusing shadows with the real world might be seen as a warning about being too dependent on social media and digital information.

So, DeNike’s old-fashioned values of calling them as he sees them might seem old-fashioned but perhaps honesty is still the best policy.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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