Line of Ships Waiting at LA/Long Beach at All-Time High

Stacked containers are shown as ships unload their cargo at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, Calif., November 22, 2021. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

As of Friday, there were 105 ships waiting for berths at Los Angeles and Long Beach. That’s the highest number ever, according to FreightWaves.

Back in November, the port authorities in southern California adopted a new queuing system for ships that allows them to wait anywhere in the world without losing their spots in line. They did this because the exhaust from all the ships idling near the ports was harming the air quality. For a few weeks, this change made it appear as though the number of ships waiting had declined because they were no longer clogging up the harbor. But the Marine Exchange of Southern California adjusted its counting method soon after.

Only 16 of the 105 ships waiting are within 40 miles of the ports, FreightWaves says. The other 89 are scattered all over the world, with many congregating off the Baja peninsula.

Here’s some perspective from the story on what this congestion means relative to other times:

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There are now more than three times as many container ships waiting for LA/LB berths as there were at this time last year, 11.6 times more than on June 24 (the low point for last year), and 31% more than on Oct. 24, when online searches for the term “supply chain” peaked and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach announced a new Biden administration-backed congestion fee plan.

FreightWaves also notes that the total amount of cargo waiting offshore is 815,958 TEU (20-foot equivalent units). That’s more than the combined amount of imports for Los Angeles and Long Beach for the entire month of November, the story says.

As of Friday, the story says there were also nine ships waiting at Oakland, four waiting at Seattle/Tacoma, five waiting at Houston, two waiting at Savannah, six waiting at Charleston, four waiting at Virginia, and eleven waiting at New York/New Jersey. That’s a total of 146 container ships waiting for berths at major U.S. ports.

On December 22, President Biden tried to take a victory lap on supply chains. With this many ships waiting offshore, he should not have done so. It’s troubling that the number of ships is reaching a record-high at this time of year. January and February come after the peak season of the holidays, and they are usually a time when companies cut seasonal workers and regroup in preparation for the next peak season. Between the conclusion of the American holiday season and the upcoming Chinese new year celebrations, now is the time to catch up on backlogs. For the congestion to continue to increase through the conclusion of the holidays is not a good sign, and companies will have a hard time catching up before the next peak season starts in August.

This problem is not going away anytime soon.

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