Ships Continue to Flood the Los Angeles Ports

By Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin
December 6, 2021 Updated: December 6, 2021

LOS ANGELES—Cargo ships waited in record numbers to offload goods at the nation’s busiest ports this week as officials again delayed the start of a new system that would fine shipping companies for storing containers at the busy terminals.

An influx of 96 container ships were waiting in line to offload at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports on Dec. 3, said Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

This was an increase from Nov. 16, when a record 86 ships were anchored or drifting under their own engine power in nearby waters.

Ships were waiting at anchor for about 20 days on average, the Port of Los Angeles reported on Dec. 6.

A new queuing system allows carriers to register with the ports before heading to the Southern California area, allowing them to delay arrival. As a result, ships are now spread out across the ocean as they wait.

The system is helping with air quality and safety at the crowded ports and is working as intended, Louttit said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the ports had no ships or one in the backlog.

“We have a long way to go to ‘normal,’ but the new PacMMS vessel queuing is working with its intended purpose,” Louttit said.

On Dec. 3, 135 ships of all types were within 40 miles of the ports, and an additional 56 ships were spaced across the Pacific Ocean, slowly heading to the ports.

A new “container dwell fee” that was slated to start Dec. 6, after being delayed, was held off for another week. Authorities are expected to start imposing the fee on Dec. 13.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach port complex has seen a combined decline of 37 percent in aging cargo on the docks since the fee was announced in October, according to a statement issued by the ports.

Harbor Commissions decided on Oct. 29 to fine ocean carriers $100 per day, increasing $100 each day, for each container scheduled to be transported by a truck if it lingers on the docks for more than nine days. If the container is scheduled for rail transport, carriers have six days to remove it before being fined.

The Port of Los Angeles reported over 58,000 total containers at its terminals on Dec. 6, with over 19,000 of those having been there nine days or more.

About 90,000 empty containers were stored on or near the terminal.