maersk shipping container
Container shipping, which connects global recycling markets, continues to cause delays and headaches for exporters and importers.
Photo by Recycling Today staff.

Port congestion seen lasting through summer in US

Shipping firms and port agencies report backups at container ports in several locations.

August 4, 2021

More than two dozen container ships are anchored near Los Angeles awaiting unloading, part of a national total of about 80 such backed-up vessels, according to global freight news service FreightWaves.

Recyclers of metal, old corrugated containers (OCC) and other secondary commodities shipped internationally have been among those affected by shipping delays, a shortage of containers and lofty freight prices that have defined container shipping conditions in late 2020 and thus far in 2021.

A logistics consultant FreightWaves quotes cites new capacity in the trans-Pacific market (added to address the previous shortage) as a reason he expects ports on the United States West Coast will be “slammed the entire month of August.” Seattle-based consultant Jon Monroe adds, “We are entering gridlock plus.”

Citing automatic identification system (AIS) data from Greece-based, FreightWaves says the number of container ships anchored in San Pedro Bay near Los Angeles rose to 30 July 23 before falling to 27 July 30.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California are not alone in being unable to service vessels promptly, according to MarineTraffic tracking. FreightWaves says at the end of July, another 16 ships are anchored in the Pacific Northwest and six near San Francisco.

On the East Coast, 17 container vessels are awaiting unloading near Savannah, Georgia, and in the Gulf Coast region, another seven ships are waiting for unloading service near Houston.

FreightWaves says as of July 30, “Altogether, around 80 container ships are awaiting berths at ports on all three U.S. coastlines. And peak season is now set to begin in earnest, implying even more congestion ahead.”

The issue has been ongoing and is affecting ports beyond those in North America. Pireas, Greece-based Hellenic Shipping News reported in early August that a container terminal in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, has stopped accepting some refrigerated containers until August 16, “since containers have piled up and there is little space left.” The media outlet cites Saigon New Port Corp., the operator of the Cat Lai Terminal in Ho Chi Minh City, as the source of that news.

That same Vietnamese port management company says it also will stop receiving oversized and overweight cargoes starting Aug. 5.

The publication cites COVID-19-related restrictions for the backup in Southeast Asia, a common destination for U.S. scrap metal and paper exports. “During weeks of social distancing, the number of trucks coming to pick up cargo decreased sharply, leading to the pileup,” writes Hellenic Shipping News.

The full FreightWaves article on the situation at U.S. ports can be found on this web page.