Fact check: Dozens of ships waiting off California coast amid backup at ports

·3 min read

The claim: There are more than 1,000 cargo ships off the coast of California that are not allowed to dock or unload

A record-breaking number of cargo ships are waiting off the coast of California due to a backup at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. But a popular rumor on social media is exaggerating the size of the traffic jam.

A Facebook user shared a post Sept. 19 with several photos of cargo ships.

"Y’all better get ready for some serious shortages," reads the caption. "This are (sic) cargo ships off the coast of California. They are stacking up. Reports have stated there are over 1000 holding and the number is rising. There are not being allowed to dock and unload."

The post received close to 1,500 shares in less than two weeks. But the claim is inaccurate.

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An organization that operates the Vessel Traffic Service for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach told USA TODAY there's a record-breaking number of cargo ships off the coast of California – but not more than 1,000, as the post claims.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.

Official refutes figure

Ships waiting off the coast of Southern California number in the dozens, not the thousands.

Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, told USA TODAY that, as of Sept. 21, there were 153 ships of all types at both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Of those, 64 were at dock loading or unloading cargo, 60 were at anchor and 29 were adrift off the coast.

In an aerial view, container ships are anchored by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as they wait to offload on Sept. 20, 2021, near Los Angeles.
In an aerial view, container ships are anchored by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as they wait to offload on Sept. 20, 2021, near Los Angeles.

Cargo ships made up 132 of the vessels, and container ships numbered 99, according to Louttit. Of those, 30 were at a dock loading or unloading cargo, 44 were anchored and 25 were adrift off the coast.

That's far less than 1,000, but it's certainly not typical either.

"The normal number of container ships at anchor is zero to one. They normally meet the arrival time and go right to the dock," Louttit said.

The delay in getting the container ships to port comes as pandemic restrictions ease and consumer spending increases, according to the New York Times. As a result, shortages of some products, like semiconductors, have caused slowdowns in production.

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It's also misleading for the Facebook post to say the ships are "not being allowed to dock and unload."

"The ships are waiting at anchor or adrift because there is a backup in the port because there is no room for more ships in the port," Louttit said. "It is nothing to do with 'allowed.' There's no space. The parking garage is full."

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that there are more than 1,000 cargo ships off the coast of California that are not allowed to dock or unload. As of Sept. 21, there were 132 cargo ships at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Dozens of container ships were anchored or adrift off the coast because of a backup in the ports, not because they were banned from entering in some fashion.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Cargo ships off California coast don't number in thousands

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