Container imports tumble in Los Angeles and Long Beach ports

Container imports at the United States’ largest gateway for maritime merchandise trade fell sharply in November, even as backups of ships waiting to unload cargo at ports in Southern California fell sharply in November. multiplied.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together handled the equivalent of 765,963 inbound containers loaded last month, the lightest traffic since June 2020. Import volume was down 9.6% from a year ago a year and 10.1% from October.

Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, on Wednesday attributed the drop to an influx of small vessels that have been shipped by retailers, manufacturers and logistics companies as they scramble to bypass bottlenecks and meet consumer demand.

Mr Seroka said smaller ships, which are less efficient for ports to manage than larger ships, made up about half of the ships that called at the Port of Los Angeles in November. By comparison, small vessels made up about a third of ship calls in October, he said.

Port officials say that despite the drop in imports in November, neighboring ports remain on track to handle record import volumes for the year, exceeding 10 million boxes, in 20-foot equivalent units, a industry standard measurement.

The influx of small vessels follows a trend this year of ocean carriers squeezing smaller vessels in service on lucrative trade routes from Asia to the West Coast of the United States and big box retailers chartering vessels, as businesses are rushing to restock inventory in time for the holidays.

The slowdown in imports has also coincided with a growing backlog of ships waiting to enter ports. The backup hit a record 101 container ships on Monday, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

Most of these ships are lined up far offshore after shipping industry officials instituted a new port queuing system in mid-November. The system is designed to move ships away from ports and distribute them to avoid the risk of collisions in rough seas in winter.

Congestion in ports is caused by many problems. Executives at the marine terminal say they cannot operate efficiently because the docks are overflowing with containers due to a shortage of trucking equipment and workers in inland warehouses.

Port administration officials and Biden have worked for months to reduce congestion with a series of initiatives, including a threat of a levy on shipping carriers for import containers that stay too long at terminals.

Mr Seroka said some of the initiatives have worked. The number of import cartons remaining nine days or more to be picked up at the port has fallen 56% since the end of October, he said. But other indicators are moving in the wrong direction.

“It’s almost like a game of Whack-a-mole,” Mr. Seroka said. “We try to get past one problem and then two or three more show up.”

Write to Paul Berger at [email protected]

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Appeared in the print edition of Dec. 16, 2021 under the title “Container imports fall into California ports”.

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