Container Ships Continue to Stack Up At U.S. Ports

Container ship on the ocean

Container ship on the ocean

As Asia keeps sending in goods 24/7, cargo ships continue to stack up at ports around the US. The largest port in the US has nearly reached a record-breaking excess of cargo ships. In Southern California, more than 400,000 containers wait in drift areas and at anchor for a spot to open up along the port of Los Angeles. 

There have been multiple factors contributing to this problem. The shipping business in the past decade has not been very profitable due to the low investment in new ships. Since ships now are double the size they were then, more trucks, trains, and warehouses are needed to store the cargo. Another reason is that consumers and companies increased their reliability on on-time inventory systems to order goods, which means there are lower inventories. The biggest factor of all, however, is COVID-19.

When COVID-19 hit, much of the world went into lockdown. Due to this problem, global trade slowed, and factories in China and abroad were closed. The volume of goods on ships dropped, and consumers, not knowing how long they were going to stay in their homes, bought food and little else. Both supply and demand fell, causing shipping volume and rates to drop. Luckily, this shortage didn’t last for long. By the late spring of 2020, Americans had bought more products and goods. When factories in Asia opened up again, trade began to boom. Today, ports mostly on the west coast are unloading record amounts of cargo. Demand for cargo ships has gone off the charts, and there is no sign of this stopping soon. 

Despite the enormous backlog of ships, ports were working at lower capacities. Both ports, the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach was closed for several hours of the day. This has made it more difficult to keep pace with the ports in Asia and Europe sending in goods on a 24/7 schedule. In September, the Port of Long Beach moved to increase their hours of operation to 24 hours on Monday through Thursday, while the port of Los Angeles is choosing to maintain their normal hours. 

Gene Seroka, executive director of Port Los Angeles, said that longer hours don’t do much to address the backlog when truckers and warehouse operators have not extended their hours as well. Picking up loads at night isn’t an option since truckers won’t have anywhere to store the goods because warehouses aren’t open at night. The struggle to hire enough workers has also been a major problem in this crisis, as of COVID-19. Executives have warned the crisis will continue into 2023.