The record-high volumes hitting U.S. container ports will likely last well into 2022 as companies rush to replenish their stockpiles amid an uneven rebound from the pandemic.
“We easily see this going through up to Chinese New Year, and there’s a lot of indications now that it could go beyond that,” said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, referring to the holiday in the first quarter of the year that typically is preceded by a rush for ocean shipping.
Container ports from Seattle to Charleston, S.C., have posted record-high volumes this year, and many are so swamped with cargo that ships are forced into costly delays waiting for space to dock. The capacity strains have pushed ocean-freight rates to levels four times higher than they were before the pandemic.
Georgia’s Port of Savannah—the second largest container gateway on the East Coast after Newark, N.J.—handled 478,620 20-foot equivalent container units in May, its second-busiest month on record and more than 100,000 TEUs higher than the volume reached in May 2019. Savannah’s all-time monthly high was 498,065 reached in March.
Meanwhile, the congestion is worse on the West Coast as an influx of goods from China, Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia overwhelms port terminals, exhausts warehouse space, and strains transportation connections like trucks and rail depots.
Union Pacific Corp. last week temporarily halted rail movement of containers from western ports including Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., to clear a logjam of boxes near Chicago.
Part of the latest problem: unpredictable flows of merchandise and industrial parts shipped across the Pacific, particularly as coronavirus variants close factories in economies that had earlier controlled rises in new infections.
At last count, 18 ships were queued up off the coast of Los Angeles with an average wait for berth space of almost five days. Containers were stuck at the L.A.-Long Beach terminal for an average of 4.76 days in June, up from the dwell time of 3.96 days the previous month, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
Source: Shipping Watch