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Record Number of Ships Stuck at Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports Waiting to Unload

Published: October 2, 2021
Ports at Long Beach and Los Angeles are struggling to keep up with the influx of imports. (Image:> CC0 1.0)

Together, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the leading seaborne gateway for international imports into the United States. As two of the largest ports in America, they account for 40 percent of all cargo that enters the country. Of late, these two ports have been dealing with an unprecedented situation, as a record number of container ships have been stuck, waiting in the waters outside the ports.

According to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, there were a total of 62 container ships waiting offshore to empty cargo on Sept. 22. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ports usually had one ship waiting in the docks, sometimes none.

By contrast, the average waiting time for ships to dock and unload the goods presently stands at 10 days. These 10-day wait periods result in a shortage of ships for carrying shipments, thus putting additional stress on the supply chains. Over 150 ships, including 95 container ships, were seen docked at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Sept. 22. The ports handled 60 to 70 ships before the onset of the pandemic.

The backlog at the ports is said to have been caused by a surging demand for imports in the United States due to the easing of the pandemic. A shortage of drivers and trucks to transport goods is another reason. The global shipping system is struggling to keep up as manufacturers and retailers are hurriedly placing orders and replenishing their inventories.

Gene Seroka, head of the Port of LA, had earlier warned that a “significant volume” of cargo was “headed our way throughout this year and into 2022.” He added that they will “continue to monitor a host of variables” and that “disruptions continue at every node in the supply chain.”

Speaking to CBS News, Mr. Seroka revealed that shipping traffic is up 50 percent from pre-pandemic levels. “The American consumer’s buying strength is so strong and epic that we can’t absorb all this cargo into the domestic supply chain… That means you’re not going to find the product you want as quickly as normal. If you’re shopping for the holidays, start now,” Seroka said.

With the holiday season looming, ports have been setting new records for ships in port on a daily basis. The impact of the pandemic on the global supply chain is monumental. The backlogs in shipping have resulted in shortages in raw materials and finished goods, with the consequences being that the consumer ends up bearing the brunt of the increased costs.

In an attempt to reduce delays for ships, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia announced that the ports are working in conjunction with the Biden administration and the transportation department. The ports announced that they would be expanding cargo pickup hours. Long Beach has implemented a 24/7 pilot program for cargo pickups. 

“The port of Long Beach is prepared to take bold and immediate action to help the supply chain move the record cargo volumes that keep our economy moving,” Mario Cordero, executive director of the Long Beach, told the Guardian.

In June, the Los Angeles port became the first port in the western hemisphere to process 10 million container units during a 12‑month period. Meanwhile, Long Beach is on track to process nine million container units this year, which, if it comes true, will break last year’s record of 8.1 million units.