Ports suffering from communications gap with US Customs

Date: Tuesday, November 9, 2021
Source: Freightwaves

A gap in communication between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the ports has left the ports blind to the arrival of nonscheduled charters, American Shipper has learned. This lack of data sharing not only is adding to the massive congestion in San Pedro Bay but the port’s ability to plan for container processing.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California explained to American Shipper that besides the 9/11 security protocols with the Coast Guard, a vessel only needs to give a port 96-hour advance notice before it arrives. This means vessel agents are coordinating the loading of ships in China without guaranteed slots from their destination ports.

But there is a glaring loophole in this chartering system. All vessels seeking clearance to enter U.S. ports must file their manifests with CBP’s Automated Manifest System (AMS) 24 hours before the vessel departs from the port of loading. This means if U.S. Customs alerted the ports, they would be receiving notice several weeks in advance. This system was established in 2004 as a security measure to protect our borders.

While this lack of communication has not been previously a problem, the difference is the emergence of maritime agents who are relatively new to the chartering game.

According to several port officials in Los Angeles and Long Beach, these agents — the people responsible for arranging berth and required port and dray services — do not have established relationships with the terminals to schedule a landing place.

The agents instead notify the port just hours before a vessel’s arrival, essentially forcing the hand of the ports to take them in when they can. But the wait is not short. Unscheduled vessels tracked by MarineTraffic show vessels anchored for well over a month.

The reason for the need for this manifest data is simple: port planning.

“We need to link up with Customs on these nontraditional companies chartering so we can have a deeper line of sight,” said Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles. “This would help improve the planning process.”

According to Marine Exchange, while the nonscheduled ships comply with the “advance notice of arrival process,” their berths aren’t available for days or weeks, so they anchor or loiter until berths are available.

In Marine Exchange’s report Wednesday, Capt. Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, characterized the trend as “status quo.” Adding all regular and contingency anchorages are described as “essentially full.”

U.S. Customs did not respond to American Shipper’s request for comment on why the agency does not share this data with the ports.

The influx of these maritime pop-in visitors is only adding to the crowded waterway.

For the Port of Long Beach, there are currently five unscheduled vessels waiting with a total of 16,000 twenty-foot equivalent units. Noel Hacegaba, COO of the Port of Long Beach, told American Shipper the average wait for these vessels is 28 days, with a range between 10 and 39 days. Hacegaba said the number of extra loaders has leveled off significantly since the summer months.

“We do not see many more making their way to Southern California in the coming weeks,” Hacegaba said. “This trend should help us make a dent on the number of container vessels at anchor as we continue our efforts to move inbound containers out of our terminals as quickly as possible.”

Unfortunately for the Port of Los Angeles, the number of unscheduled vessels has been consistently high. The sizes of these unscheduled vessels range between 2,500 and 8,000 TEUs.

“Loading a vessel knowing you do not have a scheduled appointment is irresponsible given the current market conditions,” Seroka said. “Terminals need to plan ahead for longshore labor …  these vessels are essentially floating warehouses adding to the anchorage dilemma.”

What’s inside the box?

The unscheduled charter vessels that berthed at the Port of Los Angeles in October contained a variety of seasonal and nonseasonal items. Reviewing the bills of lading using ImportGenius, American Shipper saw a variety of items ranging from holiday decorations to electric fireplaces, women’s sweaters, plush toys, firepits, vinyl tile and flooring, and various household items.

“The CMA CGM Topaz carried approximately 1600 TEUs for Target,” said William George, an analyst with ImportGenius. “The products ran the gamut of holiday decor such as fabric snowmen and tree toppers, winter boots, kids’ toys like Nerf guns and Hot Wheels, and appliances such as waffle makers, doughnut makers and Keurigs.”

The popular coffee maker was tops on the manifest, with a total of 54 TEUs of the Keurig K-Mini brewer.

Company Golden Padlock LLC was the primary importer on the Mount Nicholson, which carried approximately 3,000 TEUs.

Another vessel, the Mount Cameron, transported a full container of Peloton yoga mats that tipped the scales at 42,000 pounds. Also included in the 1,200-TEU load were Christmas decorations and ornaments.

Among the products carried on the vessel Box Endeavour were mannequin heads and training heads ordered by Paul Mitchell Systems, children’s picture books and the book “When We Was Fab” about the birth of the Beatles.

For the tween set, OMG! Accessories had containers filled with such items as crossbody purses and backpacks on the charter Jeju Island.

The Hyundai Paramount carried various machinery parts, synthetic plastics, as well as portable swimming pools manufactured by Korea-based Pastel Corp. in its 6,300-TEU load.

Seroka told American Shipper he is also receiving calls asking for berthing.

“While these vessels can be processed faster because of their size, they are adding to the congestion,” Seroka said. “These companies are also responsible for moving these containers out of the port within the new long-dwell restrictions. There are no exceptions.”


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