The heavy congestion observed at the two major U.S. West Coast ports is due to the fact that most of the world’s liner fleet is at anchor, and U.S. authorities have provided alternative channels in the Pacific Northwest.
When striking longshoremen repeatedly shut down the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for 10 and eight days in 2002 and 2004 respectively, the vessel queues never exceeded 30 vessels, yet the port closures caused significant economic chaos. The current situation is much more serious.
Alphaliner has identified 41 containerships near the San Pedro anchorage that were expected to dock earlier this week, equating to a total capacity of 336,500 TEUs. Including the 27 ships already berthed as of Monday, the total container fleet currently in the Los Angeles – Long Beach area represents a capacity of no less than 579,100 TEUs.
“Waiting times for container ships often exceed one week. In order to continue to offer weekly voyages, carriers are forced to extend the round trip time of their services by at least a week, requiring an additional vessel per service,” Alphaliner warned in its latest weekly report.
Ports are having to handle massively increased import volumes at a time when a Covid-19 attack has wreaked havoc within a high percentage of the workforce.
The Port of Los Angeles is now also suffering container shortages, according to Germany’s Container xChange Container Availability Index.
After struggling to cope with the container glut for much of 2020, the port is now looking for available equipment.
“U.S. container shipping supply chains have been under pressure since the summer and now the Port of Los Angeles is dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak and labor shortages. Whereas earlier this year the port’s high-volume U.S. container import port was overwhelmed with boxes, now there is a shortage,” said Dr. Johannes Schlingmeier, CEO of Container xChange.
With U.S. supply chains under severe pressure from the California vessel queue, Federal Maritime Commission officials this week suggested carriers contemplate rerouting and using ports farther north, such as Tacoma and Seattle, in the coming days and weeks.
However, according to analysis by Sea-Intelligence container shipping analyst Andy Lane, “there is very limited spare capacity in Oakland, Portland, SeaTac, Vancouver and Prince Rupert to absorb the strain. Such rerouting must be done before ships load in Asia, as 50% of what is unloaded in Los Angeles and Long Beach is destined for Southern California, so only 50% of intermodal trains can be rerouted.”