LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — There are a near-record 146 cargo ships off the California coast either anchored or at berth with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of merchandise — and not much can be done about it.
About half of all imports come into Southern California, but it’s now a major choke point in the global supply chain.
The whole mess was partly triggered by a COVID-19 outbreak among dockworkers at the start of the pandemic. Staffing is healthier now, but crews can only work so fast.
Even when cargo is finally offloaded, there are other kinks in the supply chain.
“We’re also storing thousands of empty containers at our yards because we don’t have the ability to return them,” said Matt Schrap, CEO Harbor Trucking Association. “The marine terminals are either out of space or they’ve reached the allocation limit the steamship lines have given them for that particular type of container.”
According to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, one ship waiting offshore here arrived from Asia on Sept. 5.
In total, 76 container ships carrying clothes, furniture and electronics are stuck at ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach. They’ve been there for nearly three months. They’re carrying 14,000 containers with about $100,000 of merchandise each — meaning there’s around $106 billion worth of inventory parked at sea.
“Once cargo gets here to L.A., it’s like taking 10 lanes of freeway traffic and bringing it down to five lanes,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of L.A. “We’re still moving more cargo than ever, but it’s not enough because of the buying power of the American consumer.”
That glut of traffic offshore may have increased the odds of an anchor mishap, which is the suspected cause of the oil pipeline rupture last week.
There are widespread warnings about the impact on the holidays.
“We’re certainly hoping that more containers come in both for the major retailers and to help some of these small stores,” said Ed Desmond, executive vice president of the Toy Industry Association. “But one issue that we do fear is you may not see the same breadth of selection.”
Retailers such as Walmart, Target, Costco and Home Depot are chartering their own vessels in an effort to beat the global supply chain disruptions that threaten to ruin the retail industry’s holiday season.
The proposed Biden infrastructure bill includes $17 billion for port modernization, but the cargo jam is expected to stretch into next summer at least.