Take a look at the record-breaking port congestion from 10,000 feet above, as 70 hulking cargo ships park off the LA coast

  • Every day last week key ports in Southern California hit a new record backlog of cargo ships.

  • An aerial view shows how the coast has turned into a parking lot for container ships.

  • Prior to the pandemic, the ports typically had zero to one ships waiting to dock and unload.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

From above they may look like colorful specks in the distance, but the cargo ships floating off the coast of Southern California represent a massive bottle neck for the global supply chain.

On Monday, 97 hulking cargo ships were at Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. At the time, 70 of the container ships were at anchor or in drift areas waiting for space to open up in the port, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

On Sunday, when Sam Kirschner snapped a photo from his plane window - over 10,000 feet above the shore - the Southern California ports had just finished a week where they had hit a new ship-backlog record every day, as the queue lengthened by 10 ships.

Aerial view of coast of Southern California port backlog
A photo of the Southern California coast taken from a plane Courtesy of Sam Kirschner

The aerial view of the scene from Sunday captures the enormity of the situation, as ships wait over a week to dock and unload, turning the coast into a type of parking lot for vessels that can be worth over $100 million and weigh over 200,000 tonnes.

Prior to the pandemic, the ports typically had zero to one ships waiting to dock, according to Kip Louttit, the executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California

Earlier this year, Louttit told Insider the sheer enormity of the ships has only made the issue worse.

"Part of the problem is the ships are double or triple the size of the ships we were seeing 10 or 15 years ago," Louttit told Insider. "They take longer to unload. You need more trucks, more trains, more warehouses to put the cargo."

Another Twitter user also took a photo of the scene from above.

-Q (@quinnjmiller) September 20, 2021


The massive backlog has become a spectacle of sorts in California. Insider's Brittany Chang captured images of the port congestion in April, when 21 boats waited to dock.

At the time, the cargo boats were readily visible from the shore.

About 20 container ships wait to be unloaded in the Ports of LA and Long Beach
About 20 containers wait to be unloaded in Southern California. Surfers are just hanging out. Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

In April, the backlog was already wreaking havoc on the global supply chain, but it was nowhere near the levels of congestion the port is seeing today.

Earlier this year, the backlog showed signs of abating, after hitting a record high in February of 2020, when the onset of the pandemic and panic-buying wreaked havoc on global supply chains. But, last month the ports began to beat out February's record, as COVID-19 shutdowns and a labor shortage met a boom in demand from shopping for remote work to preparing for the holiday shopping season.

Several Twitter users have also captured photos of the recent congestion from nearby beaches.

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