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Stats Suggest That Port of Long Beach is Hitting its Limits

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Full stacks at the Port of Long Beach (POLB)

Published Nov 11, 2021 10:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Port of Long Beach reported Thursday that its volumes fell slightly year-on-year in October - not because demand is down, but because the port is hitting its limits. Tremendous consumer demand for imported goods has driven the cargo traffic at the twin San Pedro Bay ports through the roof, filling up marine terminals faster than they can be emptied. 

"Every sector of the supply chain has reached capacity and it is time for all of us to step up and get these goods delivered," said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. "In Long Beach, we are trying to add capacity by searching for vacant land to store containers, expanding the hours of operation at terminals, and implementing a fee that will incentivize ocean carriers to pull their containers out of the port as soon as possible."

Over the course of the month, Long Beach's terminals and longshoremen moved about 790,000 TEU over the span of the month, down by about two percent compared with the same period last year. Imports and empties were both down. However, the port is still on pace to set a new annual record of more than nine million TEU by the year's end, about one million more than last year's record-setting total. 

Part of the challenge is the congestion on the piers. In years past, the average dwell time for a container was about four days. This year, with truckers in short supply and inland warehouses overburdened, about 40 percent of containers have been stuck on the dock for nine days or more, unwanted and left waiting for pickup.  

To speed up cargo movement, Long Beach has imposed an escalating "dwell fee" for inbound boxes that spend more than nine days in the yard waiting for a truck. Every day thereafter, the fee rises by $100 per day. The program takes effect November 15, but the port says that the threat is already having the desired effect. As of Wednesday, the number of loaded import containers that have been waiting past the time limit is down by 20 percent.

Ocean carriers are also expected to be sending "sweeper ships" to pick up a backlog of empty boxes from the docks, freeing up space for new cargo. And there is plenty of new cargo to handle: on Wednesday, there were 79 container ships at anchor or loitering off the port, according to the Marine Exchange.