Southern California is dealing with a traffic jam unlike any other, as a record number of container vessels have been stuck waiting in the waters outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to unload cargo.
The bottleneck this week in America’s busiest port complex is the result of a shortage of trucks and drivers to pick up goods, combined with an overwhelming demand for imported consumer goods.
As of Wednesday, 62 container vessels offshore were waiting to unload cargo, according to the Marine Exchange in Southern California.
Ship backup has grown since last week, when 60 ships were waiting to unload. On Sunday, a record 73 cargo ships were waiting to enter the ports.
The increase has put increasing pressure on the Los Angeles-Long Beach harbor complex, which is already the largest in the United States and the ninth largest in the world. Together, the ports move 40% of container imports into the United States and 30% of exports and act as a central gateway for imported goods from Asia.
“The purchasing power of Americans is so strong and epic that we can not absorb all this cargo in the domestic supply chain,” Gene Seroka, port of LA director, told CBSLA.
As the peak period for peak loads has begun as the holiday shopping season approaches, the ports have in recent weeks set new records for ships in port almost daily. Traffic has been rising since last summer amid a pandemic-induced buying boom that created a backlog in both ports and overwhelmed the workforce, some of whom were even recovering from Covid.
The pandemic has hit the global supply chain, unleashed the growing demand on suppliers and led to shortages of goods and containers and increased costs for consumers.
The ports have been breaking monthly cargo records regularly since last summer. Long Beach Harbor is processing more than 9m container units this year, exceeding last year’s record of 8.1m units, the most in the harbor’s 110-year history. Meanwhile, the Port of Los Angeles in June became the first Western Hemisphere port to process 10m container units over a period of 12 months.
Robert Garcia, mayor of Long Beach, announced this week that Southern California ports are working with the Biden administration and the Department of Transportation to reduce ship delays.
Ports said this week they would extend their hours for cargo pickup, while Long Beach experimented with a pilot program around the clock in response to the historic freight wave.
“The Port of Long Beach is ready to take bold and immediate action to help the supply chain move the record freight volumes that keep our economy going,” said Mario Cordero, CEO of the port.