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Port congestion on both coasts likely to cap U.S. import capacity

Christian Fernsby |
Port congestion is simultaneously building along the East Coast, with anchorage numbers off Georgia well into the double digits and, for the first time this year, a growing queue offshore of the Port of New York and New Jersey.

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California congestion previously peaked in the first quarter. On Feb. 1, the Marine Exchange of Southern California reported an all-time-high 40 container ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay, awaiting berths in Los Angeles or Long Beach. The highest number of container ships in the entire port complex, including those at anchor and at berth — 67 — was set on Jan. 28, reports

On Friday, there were 125 ships of all types (including tankers and cruise ships) either at berth or anchor in Los Angeles/Long Beach. That’s a new record. The Q1 high was 113.

On Saturday, there were 68 ships of all types at anchor, yet another record. There were 66 container ships either at berth or waiting offshore, just one short of the all-time high. And there were 37 container ships waiting offshore, three short of the February peak.

All regular and emergency anchorages were full, forcing the overflow to drift in designated areas. As of Sunday, five container ships were drifting off Santa Catalina Island.

A key variable for the weeks ahead involves the COVID-induced terminal closure in Ningbo, China. As of Monday, the affected terminal had been closed for six days. When COVID curtailed throughput in Yantian, China, in June, it gave Los Angeles/Long Beach a brief reprieve from inbound volume, reducing congestion temporarily, then subsequently increasing congestion as delayed Yantian cargo belatedly arrived.

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