Date: Friday, December 10, 2021
Source: The Wall Street Journal
The backup of container ships waiting to enter the nation’s busiest port complex isn’t letting up. But it has moved farther from shore.
Only about 30 vessels sat within sight of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this week, waiting for berths at a gateway that has come to symbolize U.S. supply-chain bottlenecks. More than 60 others destined for the port complex remained in waters farther out to sea, some hundreds or even thousands of miles away, including ships that reduced speed during their voyage from Asia to delay their arrival.
The ships are complying with a voluntary system set up last month by maritime officials because of fears the ports can’t safely accommodate the crush of waiting vessels as winter weather sweeps in with strong winds and rough seas.
“Container ships are very tall and blow around a lot in the wind,” said Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors ship movements in the area. ”The numbers were not going down, so therefore we needed to find a way to spread the ships out.”
Before the new system was put in place, many ships rushed across the Pacific to secure a berth at a container terminal by crossing a line 20 nautical miles from the ports, said Jessica Alvarenga, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents ocean carriers and West Coast terminal operators.
Under the new system, ships are placed on a wait list once they leave their last port of call, often in China. That gives captains an estimated date for a berth and allows them to slow their journey to the U.S., Ms. Alvarenga said.
The system has hidden from view a big part of the armada of cargo ships waiting to unload. But the backup at the biggest gateway for U.S. container imports remains as large as ever, with the lineup of vessels now stretching across the Pacific, signaling that big volumes of cargo are still heading for port terminals, warehouses and transportation networks that have been swamped by the imports.
Between January and September, the neighboring ports handled the equivalent of 7.7 million loaded import containers, an increase of 21% from the comparable months of 2019, before the pandemic, according to research and consulting firm Beacon Economics.