Congestion Reaches Pandemic High

Since July 2021, the number of container ships idling off America’s ports has been rising. As of September 9th, a record-shattering 61 container ships were idling off the California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach alone, with 29 additional ships waiting near the East Coast ports of Savannah and New York / New Jersey. As the ships drop anchor and wait to unload, the clock ticks and delays mount.

California’s two largest ports have seen congestion and delays throughout the pandemic. Accounting for approximately one-third of imports to the United States, including a large share of US trade with China, the wait time at these ports causes not only shipping and delivery delays, but also supply shortages and cost increases.

This record number of ships waiting for berth space coincides with preparation for both the American and Chinese holiday seasons. The challenges aren’t confined to California. Other ports report delays, congestion, and an overall increase in transit time.

How Did We Get Here?

A Record-Breaking Number of Ships Stuck off the California Coast

Port congestion is the result of a combination of factors. COVID-19 protocols, labor shortages, and increased consumer spending have all put pressure on the transportation industry during the pandemic.

But what we’re seeing isn’t only due to pandemic disruptions. Container ship size is adding to the logistical challenges of unloading and transporting goods once the ships are docked.

These larger ships require increased manpower to unload, and extra transportation and warehouse space for the unloaded goods. Combined with pandemic labor shortages and protocols, the largest ships are a considerable contributor to port congestion.

The highest-profile example of problems caused by increased ship size is the Ever Given. In March 2021, the ship became stuck in the Suez Canal, blocking all traffic for six days. Its size and weight contributed considerably to the difficulty of getting it dislodged and allowing traffic to resume.

Pandemic Protocols and Delays

In some cases, differing COVID-19 protocols are forcing ships to return to their point of origin. In others, supply chain disruption is both a cause and an effect of port congestion-caused delays.

Pandemic labor shortages create delays as all container ships take longer to unload. The presence of so many extra-large ships compounds those delays. The current confluence of impending holidays and increased spending has contributed to the record-setting congestion in California.

These delays have consequences for ordinary consumers, as companies are forced to pass on the costs of shipping delays by raising prices. Companies like Walmart are looking ahead by chartering additional ships in anticipation of the holiday season. In addition, cargo is being diverted to the United States’ secondary ports like Portland, Seattle / Tacoma, and Baltimore to make headway against the backlogs.

However, the United States is likely to continue to see shipping delays as freight ships queue up and wait to unload. Issues like the challenge of unloading ultra-large vessels combined with COVID-19 protocols will continue to pose problems for the shipping industry to solve.

CIE Manufacturing remains committed to working with our customers to provide the safest, highest-quality container chassis where they are needed during this time of unprecedented volume. To learn more about our Pioneer Chassis line, visit our Products page.