COVID Spurred Backup at Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach Slowly Easing

Import volumes at the twin ports continue to hit record levels, but backups have been easing as the number of vessels at anchor have slowly crept down since January when a record number were recorded for the time period since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

SAN PEDRO— For the past several months, recreational boaters, sailors, and beachgoers have noticed an abnormal amount of cargo ships in the waters near the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach. Propelled by supply chain swings and replenishment of inventories due to COVID-19, the Port of Los Angeles has been unloading a record amount of cargo and February was the seventh consecutive month of year-over-year increases and the strongest February in the Port’s 114-year history.

“We are in the seventh month of an unparalleled import surge, driven by unprecedented demands by American consumers,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka at his monthly port update event, held March 16. “Our challenges now are focused on getting port workers vaccinated and assisting stakeholders in managing this heavy flow of cargo.”

The influx of volume, as well as other challenges related to COVID-19, have caused delays for vessels unloading and loading, resulting in more vessels at anchor and longer wait times to get into port. While a record amount of cargo has continued to move through the busy ports, data shows backups have started to ease. On March 21, a total of 46 vessels were at anchor at the twin ports, according to data from the Marine Exchange of Southern California. Down from 60 total vessels at anchor on Jan. 28, the largest amount recorded since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2019, according to data from MESC.

“Today [March 16] San Pedro Bay has 17 container vessels at anchor, of those, 10 are destined for the Port of Los Angeles. That is the fewest container ships at anchor for the Port of LA since December 24,” said Seroka at the March news conference.

On March 21, there were 106 total vessels in port between Los Angeles and Long Beach, down from the 2019/20 COVID-19 backup record of 113 on Feb. 16 and 17, according to MESC data. While congestion has started to ease, Seroka said vessels still waited an average of 7.5 days to get into port in the month of February, the same average wait length reported in January.

“We will do everything we can to help get shipping lines back on schedule,” said Seroka at the news conference. It’s critical that we clear the backlog of cargo and return more certainty to the Pacific trade.”

He went on to say the Port of Los Angeles was projecting import volume for April would be up 20 percent over the same time last year.

“How long this import surge and American buying spree lasts and whether it becomes a new normal remains to be determined,” said Seroka.


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