By now, the stories of labor disputes and inefficiency at West Coast ports are old news – or at least, so we thought. Those of us not working in the thick of it most likely don’t realize just how awful the congestion is in California, as continued arguments between labor interests reduce productivity and create a virtual mire of overloaded ships. The newest pictures available of the clogged waterways are surprising to say the least, and shippers who deal with the congestion personally are likely to say that even the most shocking photos don’t do the situation justice.
Photo credit: Michael Kelley / mpkelley.com
Shippers tempted to break up with SoCal
Understandably, ship owners are getting tired of “floating around,” waiting for time to unload their goods. As a result, many have begun hunting around for more convenient destinations for their cargo. Given how lucrative the Trans-Pacific route is for shippers, and how much business LA and Long Beach enjoy from their prime locations, carriers’ willingness to part from the ports could bear serious ramifications – financially and otherwise.
Traditionally, shippers rely on the smooth functioning of these Western ports to get their goods onto the next leg of their journey with reliable efficiency. However, the latest reports suggest many carriers have to wait as long as two weeks before even approaching the port for unloading. As they say, “time is money,” and the significant delays have caused many companies to put more ships on their routes and to look for alternative docking options.
Shockwaves spreading throughout North America
Some carriers were proactive, rerouting their shipments to Western Canada as early as May, when the disputes between dockworkers first began. The number of shippers taking the plunge has only grown, as it seems more and more vessels are skipping Californian ports altogether. Most of the ships end up going to ports in Victoria and Prince Rupert, but these cities lack the infrastructure network to deal with the increase in cargo efficiently, and they end up almost as congested as the LA and Long Beach ports have been.
Alternatives include ports in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast, as well as certain cities along the East Coast. Unfortunately, most Eastern U.S. ports have already reached their capacity as far as their ability to handle overflow demand. Much of their business now focuses on dealing with shipments from Asia that have come through the Suez Canal, and many carriers insist on using these routes despite the markedly higher transportation costs. Ultimately, most shippers seem to favor reliability over immediate cost-savings.
Congestion taking the unpredictability out of shipping
Of course, in some ways international transportation is still a guessing game. Companies must consider everything from weather patterns to market conditions before selecting a route for their vessels. But at least for now, the congestion at West Coast ports seems to be growing increasingly static, taking the “guess” out of at least part of the game. The pictures below show vessels – many of which are thousands of feet in length – backed up for miles, with no choice for the time being but to watch the sun set on their containers for as long as the labor conflicts continue.