A record number of ships are stuck at LA ports, even as port chiefs say the backlog is easing up

·3 min read
Port of Long Beach
Containers are stacked in the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, CA, on Monday, November 15, 2021.Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images
  • A record number of ships were logged in and around LA ports on Tuesday.

  • Though LA port heads say log jams are easing, the data indicates that demand is still soaring.

  • New fines for cargo left on the docks for more than 9 days were pushed back to later this month.

A record number of ships were reported in and around LA ports on Tuesday afternoon, even as port chiefs said backlogs are clearing.

According to the Marine Exchange, a total of 179 ships were recorded at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Tuesday, the majority of which were anchored at sea waiting for the chance to dock and unload.

These new records come one day after LA port chiefs said that the backlog at the two ports was easing, highlighting a 26% decline in the amount of cargo that had been left on docks for over nine days.

The two ports said in October that, starting November 15, they would begin fining shipping companies $100 a day for every container left on the docks for more than six days, if they were being moved onwards by rail, or nine days if being moved by truck.

The ports announced Monday they have pushed back the start date for new fines coming into force until November 22.

A surge in consumer demand since the end of 2020, combined with labor shortages, has created delays and traffic jams at seaports across the globe, causing massive disruption to supply chains.

Containers have been stacked up at the LA ports' 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. But in the past few months, it's been common to find around 100-plus ships lingering around these ports waiting to berth.

"We're encouraged by the progress our supply chain partners have made in helping our terminals shed long-dwelling import containers," Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement to the press Monday.

"Clearly, everyone is working together to speed the movement of the cargo and reduce the backlog of ships off the coast as quickly as possible," he said.

Experts were previously skeptical about whether these fines would actually help to clear 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."

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