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The Port of Los Angeles, also called Los Angeles Harbor and WORLDPORT L.A., is a port complex that occupies 7,500 acres (30 km2) of land and water along 43 miles (69 km) of waterfront. The port is located on San Pedro Bay in the San Pedro neighborhood of Los Angelesmarker, approximately 20 miles (30 km) south of downtownmarker. The Port of Los Angeles adjoins the separate Port of Long Beachmarker, employs over 16,000 people, and is the busiest container port in the United Statesmarker. "World Port Rankings - 2005" - Port Industry Statistics - American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) - Updated May 1, 2007 - (Microsoft Excel *.XLS document) "North American Port Container Traffic - 2006" - Port Industry Statistics - American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) - Updated May 14, 2007 - (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF document) For public safety, the Port of Los Angeles utilizes the Los Angeles Port Police to fight crime and terrorism, and the Los Angeles City Lifeguards to provide lifeguarding services for inner Cabrillo Beach and all of the Los Angeles outer harbor.


The L.A.
Harbor, 1899
In 1542, Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo discovered the "Bay of Smokes". The south-facing San Pedro Bay was originally a shallow mudflat, too soft to support a wharf. Visiting ships had two choices: stay far out at anchor and have their goods and passengers ferried to shore; or beach themselves. That sticky process is described in Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr., who was a crewmember on an 1834 voyage that visited San Pedro Bay. Phineas Banning greatly improved shipping when he dredged the channel to Wilmington in 1871 to a depth of . The port handled 50,000 tons of shipping that year. Banning owned a stagecoach line with routes connecting San Pedro to Salt Lake City, Utahmarker and to Yuma, Arizonamarker, and in 1868 he built a railroad to connect San Pedro Bay to Los Angeles, the first in the area.

Port of Los Angeles, 1913
After Banning's death in 1885 his sons pursued their interests in promoting the port, which handled 500,000 tons of shipping in that year. The Southern Pacific Railroad and Collis P. Huntington wanted to create Port Los Angeles at Santa Monica, and built the Long Wharf there in 1893. However the Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Gray Otis and U.S. Senator Stephen White pushed for federal support of the Port of Los Angeles at San Pedro Bay. The matter was settled when San Pedro was endorsed in 1897 by a commission headed by Rear Admiral John C. Walker (who later went to become the chair of the Isthmian Canal Commission in 1904). With U.S government support breakwater construction began in 1899 and the area was annexed to Los Angeles in 1909. The Harbor Commission was founded in 1907.

In 1912 the Southern Pacific Railroad completed its first major wharf at the port. During the 1920s, the port passed San Francisco as the west coast's busiest seaport. During World War II the port was primarily used for shipbuilding, employing more than 90,000 people. In 1959, Matson Navigation Company's Hawaiian Merchant delivered 20 containers to the port, beginning the shift to containerization at the port. The opening of the Vincent Thomas Bridgemarker in 1963 greatly improved access to Terminal Islandmarker and allowed to increased traffic and further expansion of the port. In 1985, the port handled one million containers in a year for the first time. In 2000, The Pier 400 Dreging and Landill Program, the largest such project in America, was completed.

Port district

The port district is an independent, self-supporting department of the government of the City of Los Angeles. The Port is under the control of a five-member Board of Harbor Commissioners appointed by the Mayor and approved by the City Council, and is administered by an executive director.


The container volume was in fiscal year 2004 and in fiscal year 2003. The Port is the busiest port in the United Statesmarker by container volume, the 8th busiest container port in the world and the 5th busiest internationally when combined with the neighboring Port of Long Beachmarker. The top trading partners in 2004 were
  1. China ($68.8 billion)
  2. Japan ($24.1 billion)
  3. Taiwan ($10.8 billion)
  4. Thailand ($6.7 billion)
  5. South Korea ($5.6 billion)
The most imported types of goods were, in order: furniture; apparel; toys and sporting goods; vehicle and vehicle parts; and electronic products.

From 2002 to the present, the Port has had a large backlog of ships waiting to be unloaded at any given time. Many analysts believe that the Port's traffic may have exceeded its physical capacity as well as the capacity of local freeway and railroad systems. The chronic congestion at the Port is beginning to cause ripple effects throughout the American economy and is disrupting Just In Time inventory practices at many companies.

The port is served by the Pacific Harbor Line (PHL) railroad. From the PHL the intermodal railroad cars go north to Los Angeles via the Alameda Corridor.

Cruise ships

The Port of Los Angeles is the largest cruise ship center on the West Coast of the United States and contains three ship berths transporting over 1 million passengers annually. The newly renovated World Cruise Center is claimed to be "the nation's most secure cruise passenger complex". The complex has a security patrolled long term parking lot with 2560 stalls. On days when cruises depart or arrive, courtesy shuttles transport passengers and luggage between the parking lot and the terminal. The Mariner of the Seas is the largest cruise ship to sail from Los Angeles year round (including Long Beach). The largest ship to sail from Los Angeles is the Queen Mary 2.

Berth 91 at World Cruise Center


China Shipping Alternative Marine Power (AMP) with the Vincent Thomas Bridge, Catalina Express, and Diamond Princess in the background
That shipping volume comes with a cost: air pollution. Container ships burning low quality bunker fuel idle dockside because most have no capability to connect to shore-generated electricity. Diesel-powered semi-trailer trucks and locomotives idle while waiting to be loaded and unloaded. The local air quality regulatory agency did a study that found that air pollution from the port is responsible for 2,000 cases of cancer per million people (25 per million is the upper limit sought by regulators). The 47 tons of nitrogen oxides generated daily by port marine vessels nearly equals the amount emitted by the 350 largest factories and refineries in the region, and that number is expected to increase 70% by 2022.

A $2.8 million Port of Los Angeles Clean Air Program (POLACAP) initiative was implemented by the Board of Harbor Commissioners in October 2002 for terminal and ship operations programs targeted at reducing polluting emissions from vessels and cargo handling equipment.

To accelerate implementation of emission reductions through the utilization of new and cleaner-burning equipment, the Port has allocated more than $52 million in additional funding for the POLACAP through 2008.

References in popular culture

The Port of Los Angeles is depicted in "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" as "Ocean Docks."

On two separate occasions, the Port of Los Angeles was used as a setting in the TV series 24, first as the site where Victor Drazen held Kim Bauer hostage, and secondly as the site where CTU agents, led by Jack Bauer and Christopher Henderson, investigated a nerve gas attack on a naval submarine.

Recently, in the 4 season of "Prison Break" the main characters operate out of a warehouse on the waterfront. This can be found at 33.730876 N, 118.269954 W.

Christian artist Paul Wright, uses the term "Port of LA" in one of his songs.


  1. FAQ # 22 at the Port of Los
  2. Sowinski, L., Portrait of a Port, World Trade Magazine, February 2007, p. 32
  3. Sowinski, L., Portrait of a Port, World Trade Magazine, February 2007, p. 32
  4. Sowinski, L., Portrait of a Port, World Trade Magazine, February 2007, p. 32

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