Dozens of container ships anchored off Los Angeles coast

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LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — On Wednesday, 60 ships were at berth off the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That’s six more than the day before, and two short of the record high. Meaning, just like L.A. automobile traffic, cargo backups have also become the norm.

One vessel floating out in the waters off Southern California arrived on March 19 and isn’t expected to dock until the end of this week.

Kip Louttit of the Maritime Exchange of Southern California says COVID-19 remains a key cause of the cargo logjam — it’s impacted workers on the docks and beyond.

“Not operating at full capacity because some of the workers are out of work, because they have COVID, and a bigger fraction are out because of contact tracing,” said Louttit. “And that’s with the terminals, to the trucks to the trains to the warehouses to the forklift drivers, everybody involved in that goods movement system.”

As a result, the ports which handle about one-third of all U.S. imports are operating slower, just as more ships keep arriving, mostly fueled by a consumer buying binge over the summer where days at the beach were replaced with online shopping.

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It all trickles down to small business owners like Jeff Daquila of The Surplus Guy in San Pedro, right near the port. His inventory of popular work pants and boots at his Army/Navy surplus store has been depleted all year.

“It’s hard. I get people coming in every day, they want a certain item, and it’s like, I’ve been waiting four or five months,” said Daquila. “I can order it for you, put you in the book, call you when I get it. But the vendors don’t even know when they’re going to get it.”

The global supply chain is especially messy now due to that week-long jam in the Suez Canal. While that had no direct impact on the situation off California, the overall picture is big delays on a global scale.

“They have a choke point in the Suez Canal and we have a choke point here,” explained Louttit. “And whether they’re connected or not, it shows you that goods movement can be interrupted by different kinds of things. In their case it was grounding, in our case, it’s congestion due to COVID.”

So for now, many businesses and customers will have to make do. 

“Just got to hang in there,” said Daquila. “Hopefully, you have a pair of pants to last you a couple months or two before they fall apart.”

According to a supply chain analyst, another contributing factor is the number of larger goods inside those containers like furniture and appliances, which require bigger ships and more handling time.

The ripple effect obviously impacts the ability to recover faster for many businesses.

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