Increased Ship Size is Creating More Work and Congestion at Ports

Container Ship

via The Associated Press

The largest container ship to ever serve the East Coast of the U.S. called on the Ports of New Jersey, Norfolk, Virginia, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina this week.

The Marco Polo is a container ship of the Explorer class owned by the CMA CGM Group. It is 1,300 feet long, nearly the length of four football fields, and can carry a capacity of 16,022 20-foot-long containers.

Surge in Volume

Although exciting, the Marco Polo’s visit this week calls attention to the surging volume handled by ports nationwide as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, as well as the billions of dollars spent by port systems to accommodate these larger ships.

Container volume at U.S. ports lagged a year ago during the height of the pandemic as manufacturing slowed, although the demand for goods remained fairly strong when travel and leisure dollars shifted to home improvement projects and online purchases. Since then, volume has come roaring back. 

In August 2020, monthly container volume for the 10 busiest U.S. ports had surpassed 2019 levels, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Los Angeles – the only U.S. port busier than New Jersey/New York – had the best April in its 114-year history, and has had nine straight months of year-over-year increases.

Challenges Coming to a Head

“The surge in volume has brought its own challenges,” said John Nardi, president of the New York Shipping Association, which represents ocean carriers and port terminal operators.

Nardi went on to say, “At the New Jersey and New York ports, container volume in March 2021 was 37 percent higher than March 2020, and volumes that were projected in a study by the Port Authority for 2026, are already being hit this year.” 

The surge in volume has significantly increased the time containers sit at the terminal after they are unloaded.

“It’s everybody, from the truckers to the warehouses to the terminals and ocean carriers — everybody is operating at maximum capacity,” Nardi said. “The whole supply chain is getting backed up.”

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