The Port of Los Angeles expects a busy summer shipping season again this year as retailers restock depleted inventory, the port director said on Feb. 17.
“Quarter two is known as slack season, but retailers continue to tell us they’re going to focus that time … on replenishing these inventory levels,” Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka said during a news conference.
Imports at the nation’s container ports are expected to grow modestly during the first half of 2022, according to the National Retail Federation.
The number of cargo ships headed to Los Angeles and Long Beach ports eased slightly this month as Asian factories were shuttered during the Lunar New Year holiday.
However, the supply chain slowdown continued as the ports wrestled with removing imported containers and empty shipping boxes.
The Port of Los Angeles processed nearly 900,000 containers in January, almost 4 percent more than the year before. This marked the port’s busiest January in history, Seroka said.
Adding to the port congestion, nearly half of the 87 ships serviced at the Los Angeles port were smaller ships hired by retailers or others. They carried less cargo but can require just as much time as the larger ships, Seroka said.
“The smaller ships are not part of our traditional weekly service,” Seroka said.
Also, 24 unscheduled ships docked in January, Seroka said.
Some companies are storing containers at the terminals, with some 9,400 containers remaining at the port for more than nine days, according to Seroka.
Empty containers continued to pile up, with the port seeing a 20 percent jump compared to last year. The Port of LA now has more than 64,000 empty containers on hand.
Citrus farms and agricultural exporters say that a shortage of empty containers has contributed to their inability to ship their goods to international markets.
“We’re monitoring empty [container] counts daily and we’re looking for more progress in this area,” Seroka said.
Container backlogs may get some help as the state opens more storage sites.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week that his administration had located six state-owned sites to store shipping containers from the ports. The sites include three armories in Lancaster, Palmdale, and Stockton, a former prison site in Tracy, and two fairground sites in San Joaquin County and Antelope Valley Fairgrounds.
Many private parcels have opened, but that has been detrimental to getting the flow of containers going in the proper way, according to Seroka.
The governor has proposed $2.3 billion in investments this year for the ports, including $1.2 billion for port, freight, and goods movement and the same amount for zero-emission vehicle equipment.
The Port of Los Angeles also reported declining export numbers.
“Exports continued their abominable slide, showing a nearly 16 percent decline year on year,” Seroka said.
The port is exploring ways to aggregate and streamline exports and encourage more rail shipping. They are also looking at identifying terminals for fast-lane concepts for dairy and agricultural products.
The number of cargo ships headed to the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports dropped this week. As of Feb. 16, 74 container ships were in line to dock at the ports, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. That was 35 fewer container ships than the record-high number set in October 2021.