With a record 100 ships waiting to enter and unload at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles (LA) and 57 at berth as of Monday, the congestion in southern California's San Pedro Bay had never been higher.
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The 31 square km twin ports in San Pedro Bay typically account for around 40 percent of container cargoes entering the United States. China is the biggest trading partner of the twin ports, followed by other Asian countries.
The number of ships at anchor waiting to berth surpassed the previous record of 97 ships set on Sept. 19, according to data released by the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which provides vital statistics and information on ships calling at major ports in Southern California.
On a busy day before the pandemic, only 17 to 20 ships might have to wait in the bay to dock. But the online buying surge caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the winter holiday shopping season in North America have added a 30-percent spike to demands on shipping.
The port's online charts reported that the Port of Long Beach, which has been offering weekend hours for months, had two terminals open on Saturday, and the Port of LA had five terminals open on Saturday.
Some analysts are cautioning that it will take longer for the ports to ramp up, since terminal operators are hesitant to pay the overtime wages .
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg sees the ports' situation as part of a more complex issue, and not just in Southern California.
"These issues go through the entire chain, from ship to shelf," he told the press earlier this month. "That is why we are not just working with the ports. It is the truckers, the rail companies, the operators and also those retail companies that are at the other end of those supply chains."
Meanwhile, the pile up in San Pedro Bay continues unabated, leading some industry executives to push for more automated terminals that would speed up the process and increase the twin ports' capacity.
"Automating terminals is essential to preventing carriers from diverting to other ports," insists Jim McKenna, president of the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a trade group of the shipping industry, cited by the online Journal of Commerce.
"When you can not handle the cargo, the cargo leaves," McKenna warned. ■