Long Beach Reports Second Monthly Volume Decline but Beats 2020 Record

volumes surpass anual total but second monthly declien at Port of Long Beach
Port of Long Beach surpassed its annual total while reporting a second monthly decline in volumes (Port of Long Beach)

Published Dec 9, 2021 8:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Long Beach surpassed its previous 12-month record volumes during November, reporting that it is still on track for a new record processing more than nine million TEU by the end of 2021. However, the port also reported its second consecutive monthly and year-over-over decline in volume while saying that progress was being made clearing the backlog at the port and congestion of ships waiting for terminal space.

“Clearing the line of ships waiting to enter our port and moving containers off the docks are our top priorities to ensure shelves are stocked and consumers can purchase gifts during the holiday season,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “We are seeing notable improvements toward achieving that goal as we continue to help our supply chain partners catch up and ensure goods are delivered as soon as possible.”

Port officials did not comment on the decline in volumes this month, but in October said all segments of the operation were reaching capacity. They pointed to the ongoing efforts while continuing to say progress is being made.

November 2021’s total container volume declined nearly five percent versus 2020 to a total of 745,488 TEU. They reported declines in all segments with a better than six percent decline in exports and a more than five percent decline in imports. Empties were also down more than three percent with the sharpest decline for inbound empties. They, however, noted that the year-ago month had been the port’s strongest November on record with a total of 783,523 TEU. In October 2021, they reported handing about 790,000 TEU, down by about two percent compared with the same period last year.

Despite the two consecutive monthly declines, the Port of Long Beach has handled more than 8.63 million TEU during the first 11 months of 2021. The figure is 18 percent ahead of 2020 and also exceeded the record of 8.1 million TEU handled for the 12 months last year.

The port continued to highlight the significant steps toward the efficient movement of goods. In recent months they said that they have had an ongoing collaboration with marine terminals to expand hours of operation, created temporary staging areas for full containers, and encouraged truck drivers to drop off export containers when picking up an import. 

Citing progress in reducing dwell time and especially long stay containers, the port authorities for Long Beach and Los Angeles have continued to delay the implementation of the congestion fees they approved at the end of October. The ports said they would charge ocean carriers $100 per container, increasing in $100 increments per container per day for containers that exceeded dwell time targets at the terminals for road or rail shipment. Since the fee was announced, the twin ports said that they have seen a combined decline of 37 percent in aging cargo on the docks.

While the ports are reporting that they are making progress on moving containers, the number of vessels heading toward the ports shows no signs of decreasing. The Maritime Exchange of Southern California reported on December 8 that there were 59 ships in the ports including 30 containerships. The new voluntary system for managing containership has resulted as planned in a decline of the number at anchor or waiting within a 40-mile zone outside the ports. Yesterday, they reported 21 at anchor and nine waiting further offshore, but at the same time the number of containerships slow steaming or waiting anywhere from Mexico to Canada or out in the Pacific has been rising consistently since the program began in November. On December 8, the Marine Exchange said a total of 66 containerships were heading toward the ports, up by eight in the past 24-hour period. Between the anchorage, near in vessels, and ones further out to sea, a total of 96 containerships are heading towards the twin ports.

The outlook remains for similar levels of imports heading to the ports in 2022. The National Retail Federation in its 2022 forecast predicted more normal growth levels in the first four months of 2022 versus the surge a year ago. Gene Seroka, Executive Director for the Port of Los Angeles, in an interview with The Washington Post, predicted that there would be some slowdowns after the Chinese holidays in February but overall that volumes would remain high till mid-year 2022. He also foresees an earlier than historic timing for the wave of imports as retailers placed earlier orders to get merchandise for the 2022 holiday sales season.