California boxship queue sets new records

California boxship queue sets new records

The extraordinary congestion seen at America’s main two west coast ports – now worse than the port lockout days of 2002 and 2004 – is tying up an ever greater swathe of the hard-pressed global liner fleet, with authorities in the US now advising carriers to look at alternative gateways in the Pacific Northwest.

When striking longshoremen repeatedly closed the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach for 10 days and eight days in 2002 and 2004 respectively, ship queues never exceeded 30 vessels, and yet the the port lockdowns caused significant economic chaos. The situation today is far more grave.

Alphaliner has identified 41 containerships at or near to the San Pedro anchorage awaiting a berth at the beginning of this week, equivalent to a total capacity of 336,500 teu. Including the 27 ships already at berth on Monday, the total container fleet currently in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area represents a capacity of no less than 579,100 teu.

“Waiting times for container ships now often exceed a week. In order to continue to offer weekly sailings, carriers are being forced to extend the round voyage time of their services by at least a week, necessitating an extra ship per service,” Alphaliner warned in its latest weekly report.

The ports are having to handle massively increased import volumes at a time where a bout of Covid-19 has ripped through much of the workforce.

Mapping data taken from MarineTraffic today (see below) shows the extraordinary logjam along the Californian coastline. The 11,568 teu MSC Aino, anchored at the back of the queue, is lying opposite Newport Beach, a popular surfing destination, some 20 km away from its terminal destination.

The Port of Los Angeles is also now suffering box shortages, according to the Container Availability Index from Germany’s Container xChange.

After struggling to cope with excess containers for much of 2020, the port is now scrabbling to find available equipment.

“US container shipping supply chains have been under pressure since the summer and now the Port of LA is coping with an outbreak of Covid-19 and labour shortages. While earlier in the year the high-volume US box import port was overwhelmed with boxes, now there is a dearth,” said Dr Johannes Schlingmeier, CEO of Container xChange, an online platform for buying, selling and leasing shipping containers.

With American supply chains coming under acute pressure from the Californian ship queue, officials from the Federal Maritime Commission have this week suggested carriers contemplate rerouting and using ports further north such as Tacoma and Seattle in the coming days and weeks.

The problem such a concept faces are two-fold, however, as explained by Andy Lane from container shipping analysts Sea-Intelligence.

“There is very limited spare capacity at Oakland, Portland, SeaTac, Vancouver and Prince Rupert to be able to pick up the strain. Such reroutings need to be done before ships load in Asia, as 50% of what gets off in LA and Long Beach is destined for southern California so only 50% rail intermodal can be rerouted,” Lane explained.

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