A record 111 container ships are floating off California's busiest ports, despite Biden's 24/7 schedule and looming fines

·3 min read
Port of Long Beach
Aerial view of a container ship unloading cargo at the Port of Long Beach. Qian Weizhong/VCG via Getty Images
  • The number of container ships stuck off the ports of LA hit a new record on Tuesday.

  • The ports remain clogged despite Biden's 24/7 schedule and looming fines for lingering containers.

  • Prior to the pandemic, the ports' highest record had been 17 ships waiting to anchor.

The number of container ships stuck off the coast of Southern California reached new records on Tuesday.

According to data from the Marine Exchange, a total of 111 container ships are bobbing at sea around the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, waiting to dock and unload. That breaks the previous record of 108 vessels reported on October 21.

The two ports remain clogged despite efforts to speed up the processing of containers amid a surge in consumer demand for goods. The White House announced a shift to an around-the-clock schedule in October and a new looming threat of fines for leaving containers on the docks for several days.

A global supply chain crisis caused by a fall in shipping demand during the early days of the pandemic in 2020 followed by a surge at the end of that year has led to delays and blockages across the world.

Containers have been stacked up on the docks for weeks waiting to be unloaded, but a shortage of on-dock workers and truck drivers has led to long delays in the process. These port jams mean that ships are unable to dock and drop new cargo.

The size of the logjam is unprecedented. Before the pandemic, the ports hadn't seen a backlog greater than 17 ships, Kip Louttit, head of the Marine Exchange, previously told Insider. In the past few months, it's common to find around 100-plus ships lingering around these ports waiting to berth.

Last month, the two ports said they would begin fining shipping companies $100 a day for every container left on the docks. The ports started collecting data at the start of November and will begin charging the companies on November 15.

Shipping firms have three days to move containers if their next step is by rail, or nine days if the next step is by truck.

Experts say these fees will do little to resolve the port jams.

"The issue isn't about a lack of desire to move boxes, but a lack of physical space," Corey Bertsch, VP Solutions Consulting at Slync.io, a global logistics company, told Insider's Grace Kay.

Those fines will "simply get passed onto beneficial cargo owners who will begrudgingly accept that their rates have gone up," he added. "These containers would move if they could, but it's a combination of warehouses, truck, and labor issues."

According to data reported by trade publication American Shipper, at the start of this month, there were nearly 60,000 containers on these ports that had been there for more than nine days and would, therefore, be eligible for fines.

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