Many companies and consumers are waiting and wondering, where are my goods? If you work in logistics, then you know exactly where they are. A significant number of ships are waiting outside of U.S. ports, carrying millions of dollars worth of goods ordered by Americans. What started as a binge in online ordering during the pandemic has had lasting effects on supply chains. There’s continued to be overwhelming demand, creating port delays which then caused higher shipping rates, newly created fees, and so many more issues brought to light among global supply chains. We’ve seen record-breaking highs of imports throughout the year and currently, there’s no end in sight. Many are trying to find solutions and put them into place to get out of this hole we’ve dug, but is it working?
Before the surge of imports faced by the ports, containers would wait at terminals for up to four days on average before unloading and delivering to warehouses. For those delivering by rail, it would take less than two days. Now, the average for ships waiting is nine days, if not more. Some have waited weeks. According to reported data by the Port of Los Angeles on November 12th, the average time ships had to wait at anchor was up to 16.9 days.
Besides the growing wait times are the increasing number of ships that are stuck waiting. According to Marine Exchange,before the pandemic, ports would see no more than 17 ships waiting to dock. However, recently it’s been common to find upwards of a hundred or more ships lingering in the ocean near ports, waiting.
It doesn’t seem there is one particular problem that is causing these backlogs and port delays. Rather, many port problems are being highlighted.
One of the loudest heard complaints adding to the port delays is the struggle truck drivers and companies are facing in returning empty containers. In a survey by the Harbor Truck Association, 15 companies responded that they had a combined 4,251 empty containers sitting. Additionally, 86 percent of them were on wheeled equipment and the rest were in stacks. One motor carrier stated that they had been stuck with empty containers since August 31st because the terminal would not accept them.
Many motor carriers and importers say there are port delays and cargo not getting picked up because the port terminals don’t allow drivers to return their empty containers and make a swap. Meanwhile, the port officials are saying they first need to make room to be able to accept them. Additionally, these sitting empty containers are further adding to these port problems by creating a chassis shortage.
First off, if the term chassis is new to you, let me briefly explain what it means. The chassis is a special trailer used to carry and transport the ocean container over the road. They are needed for truck drivers to be able to haul and deliver these containers.
A short supply of these chassis is another problem causing the growth in port delays. Typically, a truck driver will go to the port to swap the empty container they have and retrieve a full one to deliver. However, when truck drivers are turned away from the port with their empty containers, they will often park them and the chassis, at truck lots. But, without the chassis and ability to make a swap, they then can’t go pick up a full container from the port. So, currently, most chassis in Southern California are sitting under empty containers, strewn across truck lots.
Another reason for the port delays is simply a lack of space. Warehousing and truck yards have been so full lately that they have little room to receive a new container of goods. Local officials have indicated some shippers eager at avoiding extended delays, ordered their goods earlier for next year, essentially using the ports as a makeshift warehouse for the time being. And even with the recent implementation of 24/7 operations at the Southern California ports, the ports may be running 24/7, but the warehouses are not. There’s just not a lot of space to put all the containers.
The labor shortage has affected every industry, but the ports are having a tough time clearing out all the freight due to a lack of labor. A shortage of dockworkers and truck drivers is one reason for port delays. Being that two-thirds of the cargo at the two ports in Southern California is hauled by trucks, these terminals are saying that the driver shortage may be to blame.
Others are blaming the ports’ outdated booking system for the growing port delays. Usually, truck drivers must make an appointment to return an empty container and pick up a full one. But with the surge of freight and no space, port terminals have placed new restrictions. Every terminal has its own set of rules on when and where containers can be returned and picked up. This even pertains to the color of the container. With no centralized database, truck drivers are making bets by placing multiple appointments at different terminals in hopes they’ll meet requirements somewhere and get to return an empty container. Yet lately, the marine terminal could decide last minute that the terminal is full or that they aren’t accepting a certain color container that day and turn the truck driver away, usually after they have already waited a while. Terminals are saying that there are more no-shows lately with the truck drivers, stating that they just don’t show up 50 percent of the time.
What may be the biggest problem with the port delays is that there is too much freight to be handled. Gene Seroka, the executive director at the Los Angeles port recently told 60 Minutes that the entire system is overwhelmed with the tsunami of orders that are flooding in from Asia to the U.S.
There can be many reasons to attribute to the growth in port delays. With everyone pointing fingers, one of the questions is, how do we get everyone to take some time off from playing the blame game and instead talk through a plan to clear out the backlogs at the ports? Because until then, the number of ships waiting off the coast of the ports is repeatedly breaking record highs.
The number of ships waiting in the San Pedro Bay to dock at the port of LA and port of Long Beach broke the previous record of 87 ships on November 15th, according to cFlow. To put that into perspective, the number of containers on those waiting ships is roughly 24 percent more than the port of Los Angeles imported during the entire month of September.
Back around October 14th, the cargo waiting off the two Southern California ports was worth around an estimated $25.5 billion, which is more than the annual revenues of McDonald’s.
At the start of November, there were nearly 60,000 containers at these ports that had been there for more than nine days, according to reported data by American Shipper.
Both Southern California ports are moving 19 percent more containers than in 2018, which held the previous record. Currently, the ports look to outpace 2018’s record of 17.5 million containers processed in 2018. This year alone, the two ports are looking to handle a combined 20 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).
In October 2021, both the ports of Charleston and Virginia achieved container volume records. The Port of Charleston reported 234,923 TEUs handled, while the Port of Virginia’s new record was 318,000. That’s about a 16 percent increase year-over-year (YOY).
Combined, the Virginia Port Authority said that since August 2021, 444,600 imported TEUs had been processed, which is a 19 percent increase YOY. Additionally, there was a nine percent increase in exported TEUs, with a volume of 254,600.
Since the s tart of the fiscal year, South Carolina ports have faced a 15 percent increase in processed containers YOY, having handled 919,440 TEUs. In October, South Carolina ports handled 107,773 imported TEUs, a 12 percent increase, with furniture imports rising 55 percent YOY and vehicles up 5 percent.
In October, the Georgia Port Authority announced that, for the first time ever, the Port of Savannah had processed more than 500,000 TEUs in a single month. The previous record was 498,000 TEUs in March 2021, with the new record being 504,350 TEUs, an increase of 8.7 percent YOY.
In October, the Biden administration unveiled their plan to help the port delays in Southern California. Since the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach account for 40 percent of the sea freight in the U.S., they wanted those two ports to be running 24/7. Having round-the-clock operations and pushing truck drivers to make appointments outside of peak times should help address some of the backlogs there.
Also in October, the two ports announced that they would begin fining shipping companies $100 a day for every container left on the docks, past an allotted time. In their guidelines for the fees, shipping companies have six days to move containers if their next step is rail or nine days if the next step is by truck. Every day over, the fee would be increased by $100; so $100 the first day, $200 the second day, and so on.
The fees were initially supposed to go into effect November 1st, but it was then delayed to November 15th to give shippers and carriers more time to avoid the new fees. Even with the delay, the ports started keeping track of containers waiting on the docks on November 1st. As of publishing this article, the charges are delayed to November 22nd.
These emergency port fees were aimed at getting containers moved out of the ports faster. The charges will go to the carriers who would then pass it along to the shippers. These charges, if they go into effect, could become millions of dollars in fines. According to port data. as of Friday, November 12th, the Port of Long Beach had 17,314 containers for trucks over nine days and 575 containers by rail over six days. If the fees had gone into effect that day, ocean carriers would owe at least $1.8 million in combined fees.
The City of Long Beach also recently loosened zoning restrictions on container stacking temporarily. It used to be that only two containers could be stacked together at container yards and warehouses, but now they are allowing up to five to be stacked. The higher stacking could help free up some space.
The state of California has been working on its own efforts to improve the backlogs and port delays. Governor Gavin Newsom recently directed agencies to find any state-owned properties that could store containers near the ports by December 15th.
Additionally, starting November 17th, Newsom announced that California will increase weight limits for trucks carrying goods in and out of ports. The weight restriction has increased from 80,000 pounds to 88,000 pounds in hopes it will help speed up the processing of containers. This will be applicable through June 30th.
By the end of this year, the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency also has a plan to help the labor shortage affecting the ports. They plan to name an industry panel to explore how to increase training and education programs for port workers and others in the supply chain who could lose jobs with automation and the transition to clean-fuel vehicles.
In early November, the Port of Tacoma and Washington United announced one-off long-term dwell fees of $315 and $310 for loaded containers that sit at the terminals for more than 15 days. This is in addition to their current late fees of $230 every day for any that are waiting more than four days.
Georgia‘s Port Authority is reallocating $8 million o open five pop-up container yards in Georgia and North Carolina. This will free up dock space for the Port of Savannah, which leads the U.S. in agricultural exports.
Cargo congestion has been so bad at the Port of Savannah, those officials are planning to use a small airport in Georgia as their temporary overflow yard. Containers will move to these pop-up yards by truck or rail to create more space for cargo coming off ships.
Lastly, there’s also the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package to help aid U.S. ports. This package contains funding for port equipment and upgrades, dredging and channel maintenance, marine highways, rail needs, safety improvements, and emissions lower projects. This includes $5.2 billion in direct funding for any ports that handle 90 percent of internationally bound cargo, according to the American Association of Port Authorities.
Even though the port delays seem like there is no end in sight, there has been much good news on the situation recently. For one, the recent shift to 24/7 operations at the Southern California ports has already improved service times for container ships. The LA and Long Beach ports have seen a 20 percent reduction in the number of container ships spending more than nine days as more shippers have agreed to move cargo during off-peak hours.
Additionally, the recent fees announced by the Ports of LA and Long Beach have been delayed to November 22nd. This is because the port of Los Angeles has seen a 32 percent decline in the number of containers qualifying for the fee compared to October 28th. Both ports reported a combined 26 percent decline in aging cargo. Because of the significant improvement in clearing containers, the ports decided to push back the fee another week to give shippers and carriers an extended grace period. They will continue to track the data to see what steps to take next.
Since September 1st, the Port of Savannah has seen a decrease of 60 percent in waiting containers, as retailers have been picking up cargo more quickly. Because of the extra space for dockworkers, Savannah reduced the number of ships waiting by 40 percent. As a result, their turnaround times have been much quicker, around 41 minutes for a single move and an hour when dropping an empty container to pick up an import load.
Even still, experts don’t foresee a large slowdown anytime soon. Instead, port problems and delays will continue into 2022 because of all the challenges supply chains have faced and some of the solutions are longer-term.
What we’re seeing is more cargo owners working with their ocean carriers to try to diversify their supply chains. Some of this includes rerouting to less busy and backlogged ports or ordering only what is needed to give the ports more time to move containers instead of creating more backlogs by ordering too early.
The best advice we can give you when working with your logistics provider is to make sure you are communicating your shipments early on. Giving AT LEAST two weeks or more notice (more is better here!) will help you secure any type of capacity.
You should also prepare for any extra costs. This includes demurrage, port wait time, per diem, or other fees and charges.
Lastly, make sure you work with a provider who helps you with more than just arranging your shipments. Find a provider who also works as your logistics consultant. You want someone who has eyes and ears on the market and can communicate and help you navigate any current or future disruptions so you can get ahead.
Trinity Logistics is here and ready to help you. We stay updated on the freight market and help you pick up on any early warning signs of disruptions or delays, finding ways to help you prepare for potential constraints to your shipping.
We treat your shipments as our own and work with you to find the best alternative solutions when needed. We stay dedicated and do not stop working until we can help resolve any challenges you may face with your logistics.
Our Team Members are true experts in the logistics industry. We’ve been in business for more than 40 years and have been through many cycles of the logistics market. Because of that, we do more than just arrange your freight. When you choose to work with Trinity, you’ll find you have a whole Team of logistics partners invested in your business. Our only goals are to simplify your logistics so you can succeed and see growth.
Author: Christine Morris
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