Cargo container shipments through the Port of Long Beach dropped 23 percent in January compared to last year, reducing port volume not seen in five years, according to port statistics released Thursday.

The Port of Long Beach shipped 399,295 twenty-foot cargo container units, or TEUs, last month, down from January 2008's shipment of 521,342 TEUs.

"Winter months are always slower but this is exceptionally slower," said Art Wong, a Port of Long Beach spokesman. "The last time the shipments were that low was in 2004, when the ports were coming back from the downturn caused by the Sept. 11 attacks."

In February 2004, 314,719 TEUs were shipped, a figure still below last month's figure.

The dismal news comes on the heels of 2008, a year that saw the biggest single-year decline in cargo container shipments in more than two decades.

Shipments at the Port of Long Beach dropped 11 percent in 2008, with 6.5 million TEUs shipped last year, again a level not seen at the port since 2004.

As recently as 2007 Long Beach had its busiest year ever with a record 7.3 million TEUs shipped.

Wong said that the economic downturn is mostly to blame for port traffic down with less people buying in the U.S. and buying U.S. exports. However, the port has noticed that a minority of cargo business has been lost to smaller ports that can handle smaller orders and charge less.

The Port of Los Angeles hasn't released their numbers yet for January, but said port officials have said that trade would like drop by double digits in 2009. Los Angeles' port saw a 6 percent drop in container volume in 2008, their largest decline ever amid 20 years of steady growth.

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