Container ships waiting for berth at Ports of LA, Long Beach near record high


The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California reported lengthier lists of ships anchoring offshore, with the number of ships idle within sight of the port standing at 39, just shy of an all-time high level of 40.

The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the number one and two busiest ports in the US, respectively.

Delays have been commonplace in recent weeks and months, owing to stronger import demand into North America amid drawdowns in warehouse stocks for many retailers. The delays have been exacerbated in combination with logistical challenges such as port closures in China, and escalating intermodal tie-ups in the US.

Recently, US rail providers have metered or halted intermodal rail traffic in order to correct terminal congestion, particularly in the US Midwest ramps, resulting in drawn-out container dwell times.

Accelerating demand has led to a sudden influx of containers being imported, due to which ports were struggling to cope with the additional demand. With port closures seen around the world, queues began to build up at key hubs.

According to Platts trade-flow software, cFlow, the most highly-impacted ports in North America were the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in California. As of Aug. 26, 39 container ships were waiting to berth and offload cargo, up from 36 a day earlier. This is expected to grow to an all-time high of over 40 in the coming days.

There were a combined 30 ships at berth in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as of Aug. 26.

There were also lengthy delays at the Port of Savannah in Georgia, US, and at Rotterdam in the Netherlands, with 15 and 12 ships waiting for the green light to enter the ports, compared with 14 and 12, respectively, on Aug. 25, according to cFlow.

The Los Angeles port data for August showed that 90% of ships headed straight to anchor, joining a queue averaging 7.6 days of anchor time. The Port of Los Angeles alone had 23 container ships at anchor on Aug. 26, with 11 more due to arrive by Aug. 30, the port said.

This recent spike in demand has come ahead of Black Friday and the Holiday season. The upcoming holidays, while still far away, have resulted in some importers seeking to secure cargo well ahead of time. Delaying increases the risk of being caught out with late deliveries, as was seen in 2020.

“People are resorting to whatever solutions they can to try and move goods at the moment,” said a source at a freight forwarder. “If someone needs to move cargo, they need to move cargo, it’s that simple.”

Further, there was a general equipment imbalance, with demand from North Asia to North America significantly outweighing the demand on the backhaul route. The sustained and high level of demand has left supply chains groaning in the market, with issues emerging in moving containers out of the port due to a dearth in chassis supply in the US. This has resulted in backlogs beginning to form quayside.

As a result of this stronger demand, Platts Container Rate 13 — North Asia-to-West Coast North America — rose to $7,900/FEU on Aug. 25, up from $3,400/FEU in the previous year, an increase of 132%. Despite this, some shippers were heard to be paying premium rates of up to $18,000/FEU to move a prompt cargo along this route.