LA LB port congestion Vessel Delays
Import deluge fills LA-LB terminals to capacity
An “unprecedented amount of import containers” has taken up all of the marine terminal space at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and forced employers to strictly ration longshore labor, with no immediate relief in sight, according to the largest terminal operator in Long Beach.
“Because there is no room at the terminals, imports are just sitting on the docks, taking up space,” Ed DeNike, president of SSA Containers, told a virtual conference Tuesday sponsored by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition.
DeNike said import distribution centers filled beyond capacity are a significant contributor to the congestion at the ports. Truckers are unable to dray import loads from the terminals to warehouses throughout Southern California. SSA’s operating model calls for draying import loads from its three terminals in Long Beach to nearby off-dock yards for temporary storage before the containers are moved to the distribution facilities, but the warehouses are full.
“I have 3,000 containers sitting on off-dock terminals that can’t be delivered,” DeNike said.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex set records for US imports from Asia in August and again in October. The port complex handled 2.5 million TEU of Asian imports in the three-month period of August through October, according to PIERS, a JOC.com sister company within IHS Markit.
The 12 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach are so overwhelmed by US imports from Asia that they are passing up extra revenue opportunities by rejecting vessel calls from carriers they do not contract with.
“We turned away six ships from other carriers because there is no space,” DeNike said.
Vessel delays mounting
Another by-product of the terminal congestion is delays of almost a week just to get the vessels to berth, he said. “We’re up to six days delay. We started a ship yesterday that came in last Tuesday,” DeNike said.
According to the master queuing list published by the Marine Exchange of Southern California, 17 container ships were at anchor Tuesday awaiting berths. That was down from 20 container ships at anchor on Monday. Six of the ships at anchor were of 10,000 TEU capacity or greater, including two of 14,000 TEU and one of 13,000 TEU capacity.
Terminal operators have been forced to ration the daily assignment of longshore labor so each terminal is assigned at least one work gang per shift. “We have one gang working a 13,000 TEU ship where we would normally work it with six gangs,” DeNike said.
“The labor shortage is the big issue,” said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA). With import containers stacked higher and wider than the terminals were designed to handle, the maneuverability of container-handling machines is compromised, which is producing a severe shortage of skilled equipment operators, LaBar said.
As a result, the average truck turn time in November was 84 minutes, up from 58 minutes in June, according to the HTA’s truck mobility data. Truck turn times requiring more than two hours to complete accounted for 24 percent of all truck visits, double the 12 percent recorded in June.
“Congestion at the terminals affects the ability of exporters to get productive truck moves,” LaBar said.
No let-up seen in import surge
The double-digit increase in US imports since summer is projected to continue well into 2021, based upon the assumption that the vaccines being released to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are successful and a fiscal stimulus bill is approved by early 2021, said Paul Bingham, director of transportation consulting at IHS Markit, parent company of JOC.com. That indicates the operational pressures at the ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach will continue, he said.
US imports from Asia this year will be down 5.4 percent compared with 2019, according to GTA Forecasting, part of IHS Markit. Volumes are expected to rise 6.4 percent in 2021 from 2020.