Feature: Southern California truckers bear brunt of empty containers-filled ports

Source: Xinhua| 2021-12-22 17:26:19|Editor: huaxia

by Julia Pierrepont III

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Some Southern California truckers have said their livelihoods and even their national economy hinge on shipping containers, but these days those containers are filled with air instead of goods.

While they acknowledge that issues from international trade conflicts, soaring consumer demand in Christmas season to COVID-19-induced labor shortages are straining the supply chain, the container plight tops them all.

"Our biggest problem by far is empty shipping containers," Matt Schrap, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association, a coalition of intermodal carriers serving America's West Coast ports, told Xinhua. "They are the bottleneck that is sinking the global supply chain."

There are now 71,000 empty containers on Los Angeles terminals or near-dock depots, up from 65,000 a month ago, reported the FreightWaves on Wednesday, which closely follows the global logistics industry, noting that the glut of empty containers is worsening.

"It's a complicated mess," sighed Ian Weiland, vice president of operations for JC Transports, a mid-sized trucking firm operating out of the twin ports of Los Angeles-Long Beach in Southern California.

In a nutshell, the supply chain starts with consumers ordering goods from large retail giants like Amazon, who then place high volume orders for these goods from all over the world. Ocean shipping lines load these goods into fortified steel shipping containers, stack thousands of full containers onboard their ships, and sail them across the sea to ports like Southern California.

After the ships dock at a terminal, longshoremen crane the containers off the ships into the terminal's container yards. Then, a trucker, hired by the retail chain that owns the goods, arranges an appointment time with terminal operator to pick up the full container from the terminal yard. After being loaded onto the truck's chassis, the container can be delivered to the retail chain's warehouse for unpacking.

"In an ideal world," Schrap said, "Our trucker then picks up the empty container and makes an appointment to return it to the terminal yard, where it would be loaded back onto the ship and returned to its port of origin to be refilled."

"But this is not an ideal world," he noted. "The problem is, shipping liners and terminal owners are dragging their feet, not giving timely appointments for truckers to return the empty containers."

So empties are piling up everywhere, in warehouse parking lots, trucking company compounds, warehouses, and even dirt lots. The terminals and port yards themselves are already filled to capacity. This has created a brutal bottleneck that keeps goods from flowing smoothly and efficiently along the global supply chain, leaving Asian exporters clamoring for empty containers that are returned less and less frequently, and driving American truck drivers out of business.

"Now you're stuck driving home with 10-ton steel container on the back of your truck that you can't get rid of. That means you can't go to work the next day," Schrap explained.

"That's why so many small truckers like me, are going out of business, putting families at risk, even though the whole country is crying out for more truck drivers," independent trucker, Herb Pounder, explained to Xinhua. "It's tanking our industry and our country's economic recovery."

"Asia needs those empty containers back so they can ship out more stuff, so this is hurting them too. But shipping lines can drive up the price they charge per container," Pounder said.

It's reportedly that containers, which used to cost about 1,500 U.S. dollars to be shipped from China and other Asian countries to California, now cost over 8,000 dollars, and there have been reports that some customers have been forced to pay up to 20,000 dollars per container for rush deliveries.

Even the mid-sized trucking companies are feeling the pinch. "The problem of empties is eating up everyone's profits," Weiland said. "We are a mid-sized trucking company, but 50 percent to 70 percent of our yard is being wasted, filled with unreturnable empties."

He added that hundreds of their truck trailers can also be out of circulation, trapped under empty containers, adding to the chassis shortage. "And there are many trucking companies in the same situation. There is no container storage left anywhere in Los Angeles."

"This is a crisis. It's not just a West Coast problem, it's a national problem," Weiland continued. "We need a government agency that can set aside land near ports to store the empties and allow unrestricted drop-offs."

Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, was quoted as saying by the FreightWaves that "If necessary, we will look at additional measures, including levying fees on liner companies for empty containers that dwell excessively at our marine terminals." Enditem

KEY WORDS: US,Supply chain,Containers,FEATURE