Congested California port diverts cargo

Gene Seroka Gene Seroka: “We will do our very best to make sure these are only temporary moves." Photo: Port of Los Angeles

A California port says it is diverting cargo to other ports to ease congestion and keep the supply chain moving.

Port of Los Angeles executive director, Gene Seroka, stressed the diversions are temporary. At the same time, the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is taking a new step to help address container congestion at US ports, including the Port of Los Angeles.

Speaking at the port’s media briefing on 17 February, Mr Seroka said: “In the short term, temporarily, having some cargo move through other ports so we can keep the American importers supply chain flowing, I think is the right decision…”

Answering questions on whether there could be a permanent loss in cargo and whether the port is working with other California ports on the congestion issue, Mr Seroka stated: “We will do our very best to make sure these are only temporary moves and will welcome these companies back to Los Angeles as soon as we all see fit from a logistics arena.”

He confirmed that the Port of Los Angeles has been in talks with the Port of Oakland, which is impacted by congestion in Los Angeles, to discuss how to minimise disruption. “Many of our services call Los Angles and then go north to Oakland, so they’re arriving in Northern California later than normal as well.” The Port of Los Angeles is also addressing impacts on other west coast ports, noted Mr Seroka.

One part of the solution is segmenting cargo destined for inland, which accounts for one third of import traffic. The port plans to move this by road overnight and take advantage of companies offering land for cargo storage, but this needs to be effectively separated from other marine cargo.

January figures

The port processed 835,516 TEUs in January, an increase of 3.6% compared to January 2020. January 2021 loaded imports reached 437,609 TEUs compared to January 2020. Loaded exports decreased 19.5% to 119,327 TEUs. Empty containers, heavily in demand in Asia, increased 14.5% compared to January 2020 reaching 278,580 TEUs.

January ended with 22 vessels destined for the port at anchor. Mr Seroka said on the 17 February, San Pedro Bay had 62 vessels at anchor, 25 destined for the Port of LA, including 20 container ships. In normal conditions there are usually no container ships at anchor, he stated. “Before the import surge, we would see 10-12 container vessels worked at berth on a typical day…” He added: “Today, we are averaging more than 15 container ships being worked every day.”

Around 15% of vessels on the way to the port are going directly to berth. Of the 85% of vessels going to anchor, the average wait time is increasing. In November, the average wait time into port was approximately two and a half days. Anchorage time is now eight days.

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