Current State of the Ports of LA and Long Beach

Demand is high at the port, where containers are piling up.

Just ahead of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Maersk representatives shared the company’s perspective on the current state of the neighboring ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach with the Harbor Trucking Association’s Productivity Committee.

Import volume is expected to continue through November. A slight decrease is expected in December, not due to demand but because of capacity and labor challenges. Q1 2021 is expected to continue with strong demand at least until Chinese New Year in February. Volume is expected to pick up after the holiday.

Shortages of Containers, Space, and Labor

Maersk pointed out issues with transporting goods from both ends of the Pacific. In Asia, there is a shortage in vessels and containers, with no containers available for lease until July. 

In LA and Long Beach, there is a shortage of skilled union labor, shortage of dock space at the terminals, and shortage of chassis. Vessels generally sit in the lineup for 2-4 days before they can be worked, and truck turns continue to rise. Depending on the terminal, 20-50% of transactions take over two hours. 

For Maersk, this may mean blank sailings in December, as the company does not want vessels sitting in the lineup for several days. Its primary focus is getting empty containers back to origin, collaborating with terminals to make it easier to return the empties, and turning vessels faster once they arrive into LA and Long Beach.

These challenges echo the larger problem with overcrowding at the ports. This past weekend, Bloomberg reported that nearly a dozen cargo vessels were anchored just south of Los Angeles as the ports were at maximum capacity for containers. Federal regulators are investigating the source of this and similar roadblocks in ports. Like Maersk’s report, the Bloomberg article cites the shortage in empty containers as a cause of delay.

On our end, we’re working with terminals to ensure we’re able to get appointments and make goods available more rapidly. However, shippers and carriers moving goods through the Ports of LA and Long Beach should plan for delays. For shippers, this may mean keeping customers informed of possible delays. For drivers, this may mean bracing for long waits at the port.

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