Backups at LA, Long Beach ports put stress on monitoring system


LOS ANGELES (NEWSNATION NOW) — The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, the nation’s busiest twin harbors, is dealing with an unprecedented backlog of vessels, with another near record number of ships – 154 – either at port or just waiting offshore today as the supply-chain backup continues to plague the country with the holiday season approaching.

About 40% of all shipping containers entering the U.S. come through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. The number of ships waiting to unload has risen to record volumes.

Ships anchored at the complex have well over a half-million containers on board, officials said. They hold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of toys, electronics, clothing and furniture.

The logjam of ships has interrupted the global supply chain and prompted the Biden administration to allow the port complex to operate 24 hours a day to try to get goods unloaded and out to consumers as  Black Friday shopping and the Christmas holiday season approach.

Tracking all that ship traffic is no easy task.

What Air Traffic Control is to flight, the Maritime Exchange of Southern California is to water traffic. Maritime Exchange of Southern California monitors port vessel traffic, tracking all ships coming and going.

This morning, the Ophelia was among those finally able to get an anchorage. The Ophelia got here from China on Oct. 21 but couldn’t get an anchorage until today. It will be another 10 days, at least, before its 1,700 containers actually get to shore. In the meantime, as 50 other ships also wait at port, over 100 more are loitering in the waters up to 40 miles out.

“These are record levels,” said Kip Louttit, executive director of Maritime Exchange of Southern California. “There should not be all these vessels out here. We haven’t had this since 2004, when there were half a dozen vessels loitering.”

It’s 2 1/2 times the number of vessels that should be there, Louttit said, and it’s putting a lot of stress on the system.

“It’s causing the controllers to sit on the edge of their seats … so instead of tracking 60 ships, which was the number pre COVID, today they have 154,” Louttit said.

The master queuing list is long, and so are the waits for crews. The longest wait as of today, for instance, is a ship that arrived on Sept. 12, and with slower movement on shore, the backup never improves. Today alone, 20 more ships are arriving. only nine will head out.

The average waiting times for cargo to be picked up has doubled in the wake of an import surge partly brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected traffic from Asian suppliers.

Another problem is a lack of industrial warehouse storage space in the region. Before the surge, truck-bound cargo generally left a terminal in less than four days, and containers headed to trains only languished for a couple of days.

But Louttit insists it is not a traffic jam. Comparing the situation to a traffic accident that causes huge backups that clog highways, he says, “There’s massive water out there. … (And) we know that these ships are coming four days in advance, so we can plan.”

Still, that relatively small load of 1,700 containers on the Ophelia will require 850 trucks or 425 train cars to move the ship’s goods moving away from the port and toward consumers as the supply-chain slowdown continues.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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