With Near-Record Container Volume Reached LA-LB Ports Could See a Clear as Soon as April


Even with improved productivity last month, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are facing backlogs and extreme terminal congestion that they believe will continue well into spring. This congestion has been ongoing for the last 6 months. 

The near-record container volumes they are experiencing are expected to go into the spring but terminal operators are hopeful that the vessel backlogs will return to near normal rates between April and June. 

COVID-19 Effects Linger

To be able for these ports to begin fluidly functioning again, there must be a focus on widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution among longshoremen. Due to the spreading of the virus within this port, they have been suffering from labor shortages. Resulting in the congesting of these ports. Terminals have seen a large drop in container volumes in the past month, hopefully allowing a move of the current backlog of containers. 

“Terminals are full. There’s nowhere to put the containers. We’re 35 percent below what we normally do on deliveries (on trucks)” Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers stated. 

shipping delays

January average truck time visits dropped roughly by 5 minutes from the December average of 93 minutes, as shown in the graph. In June, before the import spike, truck times were at an all-time low of only 58 minutes according to Harbor Trucking Association. 

The backlogs in Los Angeles- Long Beach are responsible for ships being forced to anchor while they await berths to be unloaded. In the first week of February, there was a total of 34 ships anchored waiting to be unloaded while all berths were occupied. 

“The longer containers stay at a terminal, the more congestion they create. Congestion creates the need for extra and unproductive moves when containers pile up more than they should,” said Jessica Alvarenga, PMSA’s manager of government affairs.

Employee Shortage and Increased Shipping Demands

Much of this congestion comes back to the main cause, the COVID 19 pandemic. The labor force has been hit hard in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area. According to the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), there have been around 600 known cases documented since December. This combined with increased shipping demands has decreased timely productivity extensively.

The employees who are responsible for unloading and loading the containers from the ships have been hard to keep fully staffed. This position is essential to the timely flow in and out of terminals. The daily assignment of workers throughout the ports has had to be decreased. Finding employees for these positions is difficult since they require a certain skill set. 

“It comes down to a labor issue at the terminals,” said Scott Weiss, vice president of business development at Port Logistics Group. “There are still bottlenecks in getting containers into and out of the terminals,” stated Weiss. 

Recovery Expected for Spring

Many well-established companies within the shipping industry believe hope is on the horizon. 

Scott Schoenfeld, general manager of Fenix Marine Services in Los Angeles believes “there could be congestion relief as early as April.”

With thoughts of a spring recovery on the mind, it is very plausible things could begin moving at an even more efficient pace than what has ever been seen before. Understaffed and highly congested these ports are still able to move ships in and out. Once staffing and import demand returns to normal, the system could move with ease.

“Drayage capacity is tight and worker availability is challenged at both ends of truckers’ routes, the marine terminals, and the distribution warehouses. However, workers will return in larger numbers when they feel it is safe to do so,” said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association.  

“The single biggest thing we can do is vaccinate,” LaBar said.

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