The logjam at America’s two largest ports has shown no sign of improving, despite President Biden’s announcement earlier this month that both facilities were moving to a 24/7 work schedule.
The Marine Exchange of Southern California reported Tuesday that 105 vessels were at anchor or in a holding area waiting to enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which account for about one-third of all US imports. That’s down slightly from the 107 ships who were reported to be waiting for a berth Monday, but way up from the 96 in the same situation on Tuesday of last week.
Of those 105 vessels, 77 were container ships carrying hundreds of thousands of units of increasingly scarce goods.
When the ships do get into port and are unloaded, there is an acute shortage of truckers waiting to get the containers off the docks. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that nearly half of the 2,000 available appointments for truckers at APM Terminals’ Pier 400 in Los Angeles went unfilled Friday.
In an effort to push cargo carriers to pick up the pace, port officials in both Los Angeles and Long Beach announced Monday that beginning Nov. 1, they will bill carriers $100 for each container that remains on the dock for more than three days if it is scheduled to be carried by rail. Carriers will have nine days to move truck-bound cargo before the fee kicks in.
If cargo lingers, the fee will increase by $100 per container per day.
“With the escalating backlog of ships off the coast, we must take immediate action to prompt the rapid removal of containers from our marine terminals,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in a statement announcing the charges. “The terminals are running out of space, and this will make room for the containers sitting on those ships at anchor.”
In another emergency measure meant to ease the port pressure, Long Beach recently announced a 90-day change to its zoning laws. For the next three months, warehouses and industrial sites can stack shipping containers four-high rather than the usual two — providing carriers with extra places to put their cargo as they wait for truckers to collect it.
Despite those measures, one Goldman Sachs economist said Monday there’s little chance the cargo crunch will resolve itself for months.
“Backlogs and elevated shipping costs are likely to persist at least through the middle of next year because no immediate solution for the underlying supply-demand imbalance at US ports is available,” Ronnie Walker said in a note to clients, CNBC reported.
Walker added that the issue would only ease “slightly as we pass the ongoing seasonal peak in shipping demand ahead of the holiday season.”
In the meantime, Americans can expect to pay more for their presents and have less to choose from, a problem that has created yet another headache for President Joe Biden.
During a CNN town hall last week, Biden said he would “absolutely, positively” consider using the National Guard to help free the backlog at the California ports.
“So, would you consider the National Guard for trucking?” moderator Anderson Cooper followed up. “Because there’s a lot of problems with not enough truck drivers right now.”
“Yes,” said Biden, who doubled down when Cooper repeated the question.
“So, are you — but you’re actually talking about having National Guardsmen and women driving trucks?” the CNN host asked.
“The answer is yes,” Biden insisted, “if we can’t move the — increase the number of truckers, which we’re in the process of doing.”
However, a White House walked the president’s answer back Friday, telling Fox News: “We are not actively pursuing the use of the National Guard on a federal level.”