Port of Los Angeles Struggles with Surge of Unscheduled Ships

Stacked shipping containers in various colors create a geometric pattern against a clear sky.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, incoming cargo to the Port of Los Angeles is surging as businesses and retailers prepare for an early holiday season.

In September, workers unloaded 471,795 20-foot equivalent units (TEU) of imports. This marks a 17% increase compared to the year earlier.

Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, notes that there are now 16 vessels docked and 10 at anchor with cargo waiting to be unloaded.

“We continue to see the replenishment of warehouse and distribution center inventories along with retailers prepping for year-end holidays,” Seroka said.

The current occupancy of the port is a turnaround from earlier this year, when pandemic related shutdowns slowed ocean shipping traffic to a trickle. However, this jump in cargo is beginning to cause backups that could ripple through U.S. supply chains.

Port workers are currently racing to process incoming containers. Moreover, they are still processing the arrival of 18 unscheduled ships in August and September, which made labor scheduling more complex.

COVID-19 safety measures like reduced staffing and physical distancing mean it is taking longer to get containers out of the port.

“You don’t see as much staffing at each shift at our warehouses and distribution centers. It takes longer to process import cargo with those facilities,” Seroka said.

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