by Julia Pierrepont III
LOS ANGELES, March 20 (Xinhua) -- The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles were "experiencing a historic cargo surge in San Pedro Bay that began in July 2020," the Port of Long Beach (POLB)'s Executive Director, Mario Cordero, told Xinhua.
"January and February of this year have been the busiest on record, right on the heels of our busiest quarter and busiest year ever," he said, but added that it was important to note that cargo was still moving through the ports, though more slowly.
Experts also said the shipping surge - over 6 times the cargo of April 2020 - shows no signs of letting up as consumer demand continues to spike, fueled by a massive shift in the buying habits of American consumers from brick and mortar retail shopping to online purchases - many from China and other Asian countries and regions.
The Coast Guard had video-tapes last month showing over sixty ships at anchor at one time in San Pedro Bay, which services the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach that form the largest shipping complex in the United States.
On Saturday, in Seal Beach, a coastal city neighboring Long Beach, there were at least 20 ships at anchor in the San Pedro Bay area awaiting an available berth at the POLB.
When asked how long he thought the surge might last, Cordero told Xinhua on Friday, "Our best guess for the duration is early summer." Some experts even estimated the surge could run through the summer.
Cordero said the longer dwell time for cargo, COVID-19 and other factors restricted access to the containers that shippers looked to send to Asia.
The surge also impacted shipping costs.
The executive director explained that due to the increased demand for shipping and goods, particularly affordably priced goods from overseas, the average cost that customers pay to ocean carriers to ship a 40-foot container had more than doubled from 2019 - now up to 4,000 U.S. dollars.
"That is an example of the extra expenses for the beneficial cargo owners," Cordero told Xinhua.
Longer dwell times in harbor, tighter space in warehouses and distribution centers, overflowing container yards, and COVID-related dockworker absenteeism had also contributed to higher shipping costs in recent months.
To help tackle the congestion, POLB was making several bold moves to speed the flow of cargo, including opening the world's most advanced overflow container terminal at Middle Harbor and their major new bridge to enhance goods flow and commuter transportation, Cordero disclosed, "but it will take time for the system to catch up."
The POLB implemented modernization capital projects that were crucial to improving the port, to keeping its competitive edge, and to helping it reduce congestion, he added.
The container project is the 1.5-billion-U.S. dollar Long Beach Container Project, set for completion this year, that at full build-out would be capable of moving twice the cargo with less than half the air pollution of the two terminals it's replacing.
The bridge is the new Gerald Desmond Bridge, another 1.5-billion-U.S. dollar project, which opened to traffic last October, and is designed to maximize trucking and vehicular traffic through the port.
They also booted up other ambitious capital projects designed to speed access, off-loading, and facilitate cargo exiting the terminal by rail or truck. These include projects like the 870 Million U.S. dollars Pier B on-dock rail support facility, the 25 million U.S. dollars Pier G-J Double Track Access, the 40 million U.S. dollars Terminal Island Wye Realignment, and the 11 million U.S. dollars Fourth Track at Ocean Blvd.
Cordero also told Xinhua that another key point for optimizing operations was access to more vaccines for dockworkers to ensure that significant portions of their labor forces were not out sick.
"Our waterfront workers are essential to keeping our economy moving, and they have put their health on the line by continuing to report to work since the start of this pandemic," he said. "They have kept this country's supply chain functioning since Day One of the pandemic, and they are at high risk."
He believed the vaccine should be distributed to port workers immediately to keep them healthy and ensure the safe, reliable and efficient movement of cargo through the supply chain to the entire nation.
"Right now, the prioritization of waterfront workers for the COVID-19 vaccine would go a long way toward helping us to tackle the high volume of ships calling at U.S. seaports," he asserted.
"At the Port of Long Beach, we never waste a crisis," Cordero said, harking back to the Great Recession, when the port managed still to implement a massive capital infrastructure improvement program that allowed them to handle bigger ships and get the jump on their competitors.
"Our focus is making the port more efficient and sustainable because we know from the past that this is what makes us more competitive," he concluded. Enditem