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California ports seeking to ease container jam

The Port of Los Angeles on Monday was expected to start charging a daily fee of $100 to ocean carriers that deposit goods-laden containers on its docks for each container that overstays its allotted time as the port seeks to clear a bottleneck.

The fee, announced on Oct 25 and due to take effect on Nov 15, but postponed until Monday, had already eased the congestion, port officials said.

At the Port of Los Angeles alone, the number of containers has fallen 31 percent and cargo sitting nine days or longer fell 35 percent as fee implementation day approached.

The number of containers sitting at San Pedro Bay ports has fallen 26 percent combined, said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

He told harbor commissioners at a meeting on Thursday that there had been “a significant improvement in clearing import containers from our docks in recent weeks” but acknowledged “there’s much work to be done on this front”.

Docks and warehouses are also struggling with a labor shortage, which has contributed to the high volume of products being stranded at ports across the US. The supply chain disruption has also led to a shortage of goods and has stoked inflation.

At last count, the terminals at the Port of Los Angeles had about 65,000 empty containers, “and that’s a bit too much”, Seroka said.

The ports had asked vessel owners to speed up loading of empty containers to move them back to Asia, from where most consumer imports come.

A Port of Long Beach spokesman, Lee Peterson, said its terminals are adding extra working hours to help ease the bottleneck.

“We are still working with our supply chain partners to expand their operational hours, so that more people can use the overnight shift. In other words, we need other links in the supply chain to continue to join us in adding overnight shifts so the truckers can use our hours.”

To help break the logjam, the administration of US President Joe Biden had asked San Pedro Bay ports, which handle 40 percent of the country’s seaborne container imports, to operate around the clock. The measure has had modest impact because of the shortage of truckers and warehouse workers available to work night shifts.

In addition to the $100 fee and the round-the-clock schedule that the Biden administration created to clear congestion, the Port of Long Beach is establishing a temporary storage area for empty containers and a staging yard for full containers to help find more space for containers.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California said 159 ships were in ports on Friday, 95 of them at anchor and the rest berthed. Of the 159 vessels, there were 71 container ships at anchor and 30 at berth. According to Business Insider, before the pandemic the ports’ highest number of ships waiting to anchor was 17.

While ports in South California are inundated with cargo, the Port of Oakland has had little to no maritime traffic.

“There are no ships that anchor or wait here at Oakland,” a port spokesman, Robert Bernardo, said.

Supply chain disruption

Because of supply chain disruption, shipping companies have been skipping Oakland and heading straight to Long Beach and Los Angeles, before returning to Asia to get back on a regular schedule, Bernardo said.

“Normally the way it works is the ships from Asia would go to LA and Long Beach, and then they would come to Oakland, then they would go to Seattle, and then they would go back to Asia, but what happened was they would basically just go to LA and Long Beach, and then they would go back to Asia.”

However, some ships have now restored service to the Port of Oakland and some are coming directly to Oakland from Asia, said Bernardo, who hopes to see cargo numbers rise again by the end of the year. Bernardo urged more ship captains to travel straight to Oakland to help alleviate the traffic jam at the Southern California ports.
Source: China Daily

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