Delays are increasing as warehouse space pinches shut on the US West Coast due to record imports arriving each day. Those containers need to be unloaded and carried inland to reach distribution centers, but the lack of carriers, chassis, and truckers has forced cargo to sit in warehouses, West Coast terminals, or on vessels at anchor, waiting for transportation. As the backlog piles up, cargo is forced further away, and costs are rising.
According to the LA Transportation Club, “Today’s data shows around 30 ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay, offshore from Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, with warnings that the situation in Southern California had “deteriorated,” with the number of vessels at anchorage doubling over the last few weeks.”
The situation isn’t unexpected as many railroads either embargoed containers from the West Coast to catch up or were forced to create extra steps in their operations to create space between unloading containers from trains and loading them on trucks. When those decisions were made two weeks ago, we understood that this would lead to a bigger bottleneck on the West Coast. That bottleneck overflowed into warehouses taking all available space for the foreseeable future.
Pain points are everywhere and there isn’t one specific cause we can pinpoint to release this pressure. Here are some of the contributing factors, starting from the top:
- Record import volume
- Anchorage backlog
- Port congestion
- Terminal throughput and resource reductions due to staffing issues as related to Delta
- Chassis shortage
- Drayage shortage
- Warehouse capacity shortage
- Outbound FTL capacity shortage
- Outbound rail capacity shortage
- Inland railroad congestion
- Weather disruption from fires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters
- Severe shortage of truck drivers
There is no good alternative at this point. Seattle and Tacoma are also experiencing exorbitant delays, Houston and Gulf ports are much more costly for very little space available, and the US East Coast is a mirror of the troubles on the West Coast but at a higher cost due to the extra transportation required. Non-US ports in the Pacific Northwest and Manzanillo are congested to the point that they offer little strategic advantage, even after considering US congestion.
The shutdown of a terminal in Ningbo has also introduced a huge risk to the continuity of departures from north China. If the Covid outbreak is not contained, it could lead to a larger port-wide shutdown, causing ripple effects across the Pacific, similar to the Yantian shutdown. If this were to happen, it would be catastrophic to the already crippled Transpacific trade.
TOC Logistics is currently working on every conceivable option, both inside and out of the box. We’re contacting our network partners, negotiating for space and rates, looking into new carriers and voyage options to keep your cargo moving. It is easy to demand “reroute and avoid LA,” however, we must consider all implications of that decision because knee-jerk reactions can lead to unintended consequences which are worse than the initial problem. For example—cargo could be moved from a vessel string with allocation to LA to a vessel string without allocation to Houston. Now, instead of cargo sitting in LA harbor, it is sitting at a warehouse in China waiting on space.
The West Coast perfect storm of congestion, lack of chassis, drayage, and warehouse capacity is likely to lead to demurrage, storage, and other charges which are market-driven, uncontrollable, and are not able to be absorbed any longer by TOC Logistics. When these situations arise, the costs incurred will be passed on to our customers accordingly.
The key is flexibility and acknowledgment of the challenges as we work to find the option least impactful to our customers’ supply chain. While we can’t mitigate all delays and costs, we are tirelessly pushing back at every opportunity and turning over every rock to find solutions to suit the needs of our customers.
If you have cargo that this congestion might delay, you can reach out to your TOC Logistics representative to discuss options and ideas that suit your shipment. If you have containerized export cargo that needs to be booked, we can do the most with advance notice and flexibility for the carrier pickups. Navigating this disruption is what we’ve trained for as logistics professionals, and we’re ready to launch every weapon in our knowledge arsenal on your behalf.