Port Congestion on the West Coast

For those not aware, I work in the world of industrial distribution. Today I received an interesting note from one of my vendors.

They are experiencing product shipment delays to their USA customers due to “congestion at the ports”. First one of these I have received.

This particular product (it is a finished good, not a part) is made in Korea, so I have to assume this is the West Coast.

So, let me try to understand this.

Covid isn’t a problem “over there”? They are making so much stuff that our ports are clogged? Or is it a problem and they just don’t care?

As I mentioned in a previous post, the mighty struggle right now is getting finished goods from factories in the USA due to covid related sick outs and factory slowdowns due to new safety procedures. If the rest of the world is working in a normal fashion and able to make enough stuff to clog our ports, why aren’t we?

Or are we getting so many sickouts at the ports that they can’t unload the ships? And why is this happening now instead of a few months ago?

I’ve been in business long enough to know that something smells. Bad.

23 thoughts on “Port Congestion on the West Coast”

  1. The ports are union bastions so I would suggest this was a delayed effort to affect the election by small minded bit players.

  2. Yes, our entire system, and “leaders”, all stink.

    I think these import delays are a combination of Asian manufacturing basically running at full capacity, American manufacturing having been intermittently shut down, American businesses being closed in many places still, Americans being told not to shop in person, etc.

    I’ve been waiting on a dishwasher since September, it might get here by Christmas. I’ve been told by multiple shops that if you want tires this winter, you need to get them immediately or you won’t have a choice.

    “We” were way too slow to react in January and February–can’t shut down international traffic, that would be too expensive–and have been overreacting in stupid and pointless ways ever since.

  3. I have been keeping in touch with some business contacts in China. They describe life as pretty much back to normal — wet markets open, shops crowded, parks full of people, existing restaurants busy and new restaurants opening, karaoke bars doing a great trade. Factories are humming. Lots of people chose to wear masks on mass transit, and there are some quarantine restrictions on people arriving from abroad. They report some limited but noticeable increases in the prices of certain food items.

    My Chinese contacts laugh at my tales of having to get illegal haircuts in the US because barber shops have been closed by government edict. And Chinese media seem to do a good job of covering the hypocrisy of US politicians breaking the Lock Down rules they impose on the rest of us — my Chinese contacts know about that and find those reports to be very amusing.

    Stepping back, the English Office of National Statistics reported that Covid-19 was the 19th (sic) most common cause of death in England in September — yet England, like so much of the West, is re-imposing very strict Lock Down rules for the peons. Meanwhile, China seems to be taking advantage of the politician-caused chaos in the West to expand its lead in industrial production. It all makes one wonder!

  4. I happen to be in the transportation business (I own a small trucking company) and while we don’t have the joy of servicing any major ocean ports I can tell you that my industry friends and the trade publications frequently discuss the major headaches and delays at our nation’s ports. It seems to be mainly due to ageing and insufficient infrastructure at the ports.

    I am sure the unions don’t help the situation any either.

  5. It seems to be mainly due to ageing and insufficient infrastructure at the ports.

    I am sure the unions don’t help the situation any either.

    The last LA port strike I recall was about ten years ago when I still had my sailboat. The guy in the next slip had a bigger boat than mine and was a longshoreman. The strike was over the use of GPS trackers on containers. Union clerks had always been climbing onto containers to identify and track them. The shipping people wanted the GPS trackers to replace the human work, which was slow and inaccurate. I’ve forgotten how long the strike lasted but I know the people hurt were the truckers, most of whom owned their own trucks and hauled containers.

  6. Here’s an article that lays the blame on very heavy volume.

    That doesn’t make any of the reasons above wrong. I’m sure there’s a lot of wasted motion and just plain waste.

    The wuflu delayed a lot of shipments and there were several months where nothing was moving from Chinese ports and even longer when getting the container ships turned around at the other end was a real problem, especially in Europe. This built a backlog that is now colliding with the Christmas rush.

  7. The Christmas/New Year’s shopping season is probably involved too, particularly if there was a slowdown in port clearance, or a failure to increase it for the Xmas rush, during the period August – October.

  8. My company imports furniture from Asia. Back in March and into April the factories had to clear out. And the ports over there (and here) thinned out as well. They’ve come back, at first slowly, now full. But the slow down put so many orders and shipments behind. Getting those containers filled, loaded, scheduled for ships, loaded onto ships, then into our ports in North America, where things were also backed up- it has created a long lead time for everyone. We’ve seen things start to get back to normal, but they were elongated lead times throughout the heart of the summer, into fall. Now with the Wuhan virus hitting strong again, it may back up things again if the ports have to cut back on workers.

    And, of course, it’s the holiday season so demand will jump up.

  9. The answer as I can see it, from an inside perspective, is ‘Yes’ or D) all of the above.

    On the east coast, We’re slammed with container traffic. Ships are anchoring off of Norfolk and NY/NJ, (which is a no-no) awaiting a berth. My own business, supplying bunkers (fuel) to these ships has been hamstrung with the loss of cruise ships and reduced traffic, and we got caught with our pants down at the resurgence in traffic, having reduced manning and laid up vessels to weather the economy. More interestingly, fuel volumes per ship are up, with the average going from 2,500 tons per ship to 3,500 tons in large liners, and from 5,000 to 6,500 in ultra-large ships, which suggests that the practice of slow-steaming to save on fuel is not happening at the moment.

  10. I think the West Coast problem is spelled:
    Gavin Newsome
    and minions.

    Shut down CA, except when I want to take the family out for a birthday dinner.
    Got it?

  11. Not sure if this is related to imports and “clogged” ports but my wife’s Dodge van has been sitting at the mechanic for three months waiting on a part.

    Not trusting that vague explanation, when I called three other parts stores about that particular part, they all said the same thing: Yep, it’s not here and we don’t know when it’s coming.

  12. The anti-capitalists/pro-Climate Change/globalist forces will succeed in destroying America. If you doubt this, just walk into a store without a mask and tell me I’m wrong.

  13. Congestion at the west coast ports is par for the course from July/August through at least November. I work in Supply Chain and we bring in loads of consumer goods from China, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. We get a notice every year about congestion. We have ships diverted to northern pacific coast ports occasionally. Most likely has nothing to do with unions and a lot to do with union work rules in the COVID era. Maybe not even the union but just the extra requirements for California. Outside work tends to be a little more lenient. Our distribution centers are being slammed just because we can’t just increase manpower to handle the extra business without violating spacing, etc. Not to mention the extra sanitizing that is still being done.

  14. Gavin L. “I have been keeping in touch with some business contacts in China. They describe life as pretty much back to normal”

    I hear this too. There is one exception–Senior Homes are tightly controlled. Even family have limits on entry (for example, perhaps once a week, and see your folks in a meeting room on the first floor, not their residence quarters). Food might be delivered to the room, not served in a common dining area. Workers often have to work 5 days without going home, sleep on mats or cots and then go home for the weekend. On Monday they’ll get a temperature check before re-entering the facility.

    Common sense stuff like you see in the Great Barrington Declaration.

  15. Also, things were a bit dead for a while and folks manufacturing here (like the place I work) that never shut down, had chinese plants making components close for a bit, or things stop along the way and once places started making again, it was ” Get the stuff we ordered on the way, and ORDER MORE! so we have a bit more reserve” and it is log-jamming a bit as well. Then, truckers have been have been trying to keep up (a shortage of drivers has been going on too), so they are less able to clear the loads, etc etc so likely it is an all of the above thing.

  16. Interesting comments all thanks. Ken – super interesting website thanks. John Kalishek – there has been a shortage of truck drivers for quite some time and those chickens are definitely coming home to roost. LTL has been a total nigthtmare this year.

  17. I have a business that imports into Australia manufactured items from a factory in the PRC.

    We have had incredibly long lead times for the past 6-8 months. Delay after delay.

    US ports have nothing to do with this because the products move solely from the PRC to Australia.

    Our freight forwarder, who works across the PRC, claims that he is seeing similar factory delays across the country, with many different reasons cited.

    I have no hypothesis for why this is happening but thought the data points worth contributing,

  18. LA/Long Beach is going on it’s third consecutive record month. Loaded containers ships waiting offshore to unload. It’s just record volume. That is my local, on the ground reporting.

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