by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 21 (Xinhua) -- 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.
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 20-mile (32-km) long backlog to berth means ships can not offload their cargo and trucks can not pick up on time, leading to shortages in consumer goods while demand is spiking.
"What do you expect?" a truck driver who only gives a name as Herb P. told Xinhua, lamenting that the stable and reliable global supply chain that the United States had with China and other partners has been sabotaged during the trade war, impacting his job and many others.
"This kind of mess is what happens when you tear something down overnight that took decades to build," he said.
U.S. President Joe Biden took unprecedented action to correct this supply chain bottleneck by inking an agreement to make the Port of Los Angeles in 24/7 function.
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 out of six 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 -- 1.3 times the regular rate at night and 1.5 times higher on weekends.
Lee Peterson, spokesman at Port of Long Beach, said talks are ongoing to increase trucker access to their cargo.
"We are working closely with the terminal operators to address the issue," Peterson said. "We are lockstep with them and seeing how we can make the system work to address the backlog."
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.
Analysts and those working on the front lines during this unprecedented spike in freight imports said the president's plan fails to fully address critical challenges like warehousing, equipment and driver shortages that have continued to create frustrating inefficiencies, reported the Commercial Carrier Journal.
"Port throughput is not just taking containers off steamships but having the capacity in the yard to position those containers, the chassis to put the containers on, the drivers to take the freight from the ports, and capacity in the rail network to facilitate the acceleration in port throughput," Kenny Vieth, president and senior analyst at ACT Research, was quoted as saying by the journal. Enditem