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Extra-loaders, new services slow LA-LB decongestion efforts
American Shipper
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New container services and extra-loaders are adding to congestion at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, further complicating the efforts of marine terminal operators to dig out of a backlog of containers sparked by chassis shortages, warehouse congestion, and a wave of imports.

Mounting terminal congestion is compromising the productivity of yard-crane operators in delivering containers from the stacks to truckers. Crane drivers must dig through larger, denser stacks when delivering import containers to truckers, Alan McCorkle, president and CEO of Yusen Terminals in Los Angeles, told Wednesday.

“There are more [container] rows, longer rows and denser rows, which makes for more moves with the same amount of equipment,” he said. Yusen, similar to the other 11 container terminals in Los Angeles-Long Beach, is struggling to handle an import surge expected to continue at least through October.

US imports from Asia to Los Angeles-Long Beach in August totaled 830,649 TEU, up 58 percent from May, according to PIERS, a sister company within IHS Markit.

“When the September numbers are in, I think they’re going to blow August away,” McCorkle said.

US imports of personal protective equipment (PPE), e-commerce orders, home improvement materials, furniture, and now holiday season merchandise are fueling the surge. Retailers are concentrating their shipments through Southern California.

Extra-loaders contributing to woes

In addition to the sheer volume of imports, terminals are handling dozens of extra-loader vessels, which are single-voyage deployments outside of the scheduled weekly services. LA-LB received a total of 37 extra-loaders in July and August, with about 20 scheduled in September and October, according to the ports. That’s in addition to the 27 weekly liner services from Asia to Southern California, including three recently initiated semi-regular extra-loader services, the ports said.

Carriers in September and October are continuing to add capacity from central and southern China to Los Angeles-Long Beach. Mediterranean Shipping Co. in September launched its new weekly Santana service, with 9,000 TEU ships. Cosco Shipping is deploying five weekly “extra-sailers” of 8,500-9,500 TEU capacity, with OOCL co-loading on the seasonal service, and Wan Hai Lines has started to deploy additional ships with capacities of 2,750-4,950 TEU, according to the current issue of Alphaliner.

“Average weekly capacity in the Asia-North America trade has reached another record level of 530,000 TEU this week as Chinese exports peak before the Golden Week holiday in the first week of October,” Alphaliner said.

All of the additional capacity in the trans-Pacific has been concentrated in Los Angeles-Long Beach, where the Southern California supply chain of terminal operators, truckers, warehouses, equipment providers and railroads have been struggling to handle the scheduled weekly services, let alone dozens of additional vessel arrivals they had not planned for.

McCorkle said terminal operators are doing what they can, with several of the terminals adding a Friday night gate to the six day gates and four (Monday through Thursday) night gates they had been operating each week. “These are expensive gates,” he said.

Terminal congestion flares up quickly
Earlier this summer, the terminals were relatively fluid, and the problems mostly involved worker shortages at warehouses, chassis shortages, and insufficient truck capacity caused by glitches in the supply chain, said Weston LaBar, CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA). Now those problems are compounded by mounting congestion at the marine terminals, he said.

Port Logistics Group, which operates 4 million square feet of space at its eight Southern California distributions centers, is meeting its internal key performance commitments for what is under its control, said Scott Weiss, vice president of business development. But equipment shortages, difficulties in returning empties to the terminals, and now terminal congestion are becoming serious problems.

“We are experiencing significant delays and disruptions for the events in the supply chain and at the terminals that are beyond our control,” Weiss said.

Key indicators at the marine terminals — truck turn times at the gates and container dwell times on the terminals — have deteriorated the past two months. The average turn time in June was a record low 58 minutes, but increased to 62 minutes in July and 70 minutes in August, according to the HTA’s truck mobility data.

Container dwell time on the docks in August was 3.25 days, up from 2.8 days in July, and the highest dwell time in 18 months, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA). Of even greater concern, 10.1 percent of the containers are dwelling at the terminals for five days or longer, up from 5.7 percent in July. Container dwell times above four days are a major contributor to terminal congestion, said Jessica Alvarenga, PMSA manager of government affairs.

Warehouse productivity is also compromised due to labor shortages and social-distancing requirements for workers during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), according to logistics companies. As a result, the “street dwell” for chassis detained at warehouses in July was 7.4 days, almost double the normal of about four days, according to the website of the Pool of Pools published by the three intermodal equipment providers (IEPs) in Southern California.

Ron Joseph, utive vice president and COO at DCLI, said the pool of out-of-order chassis at the terminals, which had been a problem earlier this summer, is being rapidly reduced as the IEPs work overtime to repair the equipment. According to the Pool of Pools website, out-of-service chassis on Tuesday totaled 3,887, down from more than 8,000 in June, Joseph said. That means there are still about 18,400 roadable chassis at the terminals that should help to mitigate the chassis shortage as they are deployed in drayage service, he said.

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