Container Volumes Plummet at San Pedro Bay Ports

The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (file image)

Published Apr 9, 2020 1:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Container volumes plummeted by nearly a third at the Port of Los Angeles in March, dragged down by coronavirus-related disruption and the lingering effects of the transpacific trade war. 

During March, the Port of LA moved about 450,000 TEU, about 31 percent less than it did during the same period last year and the lowest amount that the port has moved in any month since 2009 (the Great Recession). These numbers reflected a 26 percent decrease in imports, a 24 percent decrease in exports and a 45 percent decrease in empties handled. 

“We’ve had two serious shocks to our supply chain system. First the trade war between the U.S. and China and now the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Gene Seroka, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles. “With U.S. retailers and cargo owners scaling back orders, volumes are soft even though factories in China are beginning to produce more. Amidst this public health crisis, there will be uncertain months ahead in the global supply chain.”

The numbers for the first three months of the year reflect a quarterly decline of 18.5 percent relative to Q1 2019. 

Decline continues at Port of Long Beach

At the neighboring Port of Long Beach, terminal operators saw a decline of about six percent relative to last March. As at Los Angeles, empties led with a decline of 21 percent year-on-year. Exports were down by nearly 11 percent and imports fell by five percent.

“The coronavirus is delivering a shock to the supply chain that continues to ripple across the national economy,” said Mario Cordero, Executive Director of the Port of Long Beach. “We’re definitely seeing a reduction in the flow of cargo at San Pedro Bay, but the ports remain open and operating, and we are maintaining business continuity.”

The numbers for Long Beach's first quarter show a seven percent decline year-on-year, reflecting the impact of 19 blanked sailings from Asia. 

Port of Long Beach is giving priority to shipments of medical supplies and personal protective equipment, which are crucial to the fight against COVID-19. These shipments are being shepherded through the port's tenant terminals and staged for special pick-up in order to rush them to distribution centers.

Patrick Halloran, the director of global trade logistics for medical supply giant Cardinal Health, credited the Long Beach port community for reducing the time to delivery for these much-needed goods. “It’s great to see this come together as we all move quickly to prioritize getting products where they are needed in this uncertain time,” Halloran said.