US imports stranded on ships floating just off Los Angeles
The giant container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days was freed on Monday, but another bottleneck in the supply chain remains, this one in southern California.
As of Monday morning, 24 container ships – with a combined maximum carrying capacity nearly 10 times that of the newly freed ship – were anchored off the coast awaiting space in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. , which monitors ships and directs maritime traffic.
Ships carry tens of thousands of boxes containing millions of dollars worth of washing machines, medical equipment, consumer electronics and other products that make up global ocean trade, all idling in the waters at the view of blocked platforms. with even more containers.
One was on his 12th day of waiting in the seemingly endless queue. And the ships keep coming.
Safeguards began to build up late last year, as retailers and manufacturers attempted to replenish stocks that were depleted in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic.
WITH SHIP NOW FREED, A PROBE STARTS IN THE BLOCKING OF THE SUEZ CANAL
A striking difference can be seen by comparing the movements of container ships around ports in February 2020 with February 2021, according to location data from the marine tracker Marine Traffic.
In February 2020, access to the docks was stable, with ships rarely anchoring offshore:
And in February 2021, many ships anchor offshore while waiting in a queue for dock space:
The two ports together handle more than a third of U.S. container imports, and the delays there are part of a global supply chain mess that continues even after ships are unloaded. In January, more than a quarter of containers imported at these gates had to wait more than five days to be handled once they arrived at the dock, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association. In June 2020, before the blockage, around 2% had to wait that long.
U.S. imports from international trading partners rebounded as coronavirus restrictions eased and demand rebounded in the summer of 2020. The United States imported a record $ 219.86 billion worth of goods in January this year on a seasonally adjusted basis, about 9% higher than a year earlier.
“Under normal conditions, container ships rarely drop anchor,” said Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California. At noon on February 1, 40 were anchored offshore. The number has since dropped.
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The number of dockside container ships loading or unloading containers has fluctuated between around 10 and 20 throughout 2019 and into 2020, which is normal, according to Captain Louttit. It fluctuated between around 20 and 30 between late 2020 and March of this year. “Ports are setting records for freight transport,” he said.
The sudden surge in shipments last year after a lull in the spring and summer “shocked and stifled the system of movement of goods,” said Captain Louttit. The additional ships arrived while the system was operating at reduced capacity and efficiency, a bottleneck in part due to transport and logistics personnel being absent from work due to infections and exposure to the sun. Covid-19, he said.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach continue to manage the backlog as the number of arriving ships continues to increase. In February of this year, 177 container ships and over 800,000 containers (in 20-foot equivalent units or TEUs) arrived in ports. This represents 31% more ships and 49% more containers than the same month last year.
According to Chris Rogers, supply chain analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence Panjiva, maritime imports into the United States have been increasing for months, starting with an increase in shipments of consumer goods as early as August.
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“The goods for which we have seen the fastest growth in shipments are those that take up a lot of space on container ships relative to their value, so the trade volume has grown faster than that of the trade value, ”Rogers said.
The supply chain analyst cited marked increases in containers of furniture, appliances, major consumer electronics, medical supplies, and household and personal care products.
The disruptions show how vulnerable supply chains are and why it has been so difficult for many U.S. businesses to bounce back a year after the start of the pandemic even as the economy begins to recover.