Surprising Surplus of Empty Containers at Long Beach Ocean Port

Congestion has been brutal at LA for quite some time now. Anyone who has shipped over the last year (and maybe even longer than that) knows that LA/Long Beach is home to congestion almost year-round. COVID wasn’t particularly friendly to the port’s reputation, especially in the back half of the year when consumer demand and ecommerce activity skyrocketed.  They’ve been at the top of supply chain news headlines for a while, and unfortunately that isn’t changing any time soon.

At times over the last 18 months, port workers have been out sick due to COVID outbreaks and increasing consumer demand has put undue stress on the ports of LA/Long Beach. Several port workers have reported working overtime just to stay afloat amidst the increase in activity at the ports.

By this point in time, shippers are well-aware of the global container shortages at hand. Domestic shippers are having issues finding availability for chassis, capacity aboard vessels is incredibly low and steamship lines are booking out far in advance, and there is currently an overseas container shortage. The majority of U.S. imports are coming from Asia, and China in particular has an incredibly low container shortage.

The issue is being largely blamed on the increase in U.S. imports as businesses are making up for lost time due to COVID, as well as stocking up on inventory for the upcoming December holidays. However, the struggle for importers is that the high congestion at ports, low vessel availability, and container shortage is making it incredibly difficult to continue moving cargo. But this begs the question, why is cargo being held up?

Word has it that there is a rather severe empty container pile up at the ports of LA/Long Beach. Due to the stress on the port for U.S. bound imports, containers are flying into the port terminals quickly, and after being emptied, there isn’t enough support to accommodate the volume and keep empty containers making their way backwards.

Essentially, the empty containers are on the wrong end of the supply chain. As China struggles to get cargo into a low number of containers, the empty containers are sitting at the LA/Long Beach ports, which adds additional undue stress on port workers.

Reporters have suggested that this empty container pileup is indicative that congestion is bad at the port, and that shippers shouldn’t expect it to return to normal anytime in the near future. There is growing congestion and a lack of necessary resources to keep cargo and equipment moving in the right direction.

So, what should shippers do right now? While there’s nothing that can be done about the state of LA/Long Beach as of now, shippers should talk with their freight forwarders about options. Re-routing cargo is frequently a great option and speaking with your forwarder about strategic solutions for your international cargo may be your best bet for restoring balance and efficiency to your supply chain.

If you have any questions you’d like answered, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of our team members! We would love to help you and your team out in any way we can! Here are some other blogs that you might also be interested in:

How Harsh are China’s Ocean Port Restrictions?

Evaluating Your Forwarder in Tough Market Conditions 


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