Long Beach, ports worldwide experiencing strain due to high end-of-year shipping demand

As the last quarter of 2020 comes to an end, Sea-Intelligence—a global supply chain research firm—reported last month that cargo movement worldwide is behind schedule as the pandemic and heightened demand for cargo movement causes strain on shipping lines—and some of that strain has been felt in Long Beach.

The report shows that global schedule reliability dropped to 50.1% in November 2020, which means that for the fourth consecutive month, global schedule reliability has been the lowest across all months since data was first collected in 2011.

Bottlenecks of backed up shipping lines have begun to form along ports in Europe and Asia, according to a report from Transport Topics, which found that on-time arrivals from Asia to North America dropped below 30%, less than half the long-run average globally.

Those effects can be seen at the Port of Long Beach, as the number of vessels at anchor have steadily increased since October. Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, confirmed that the demand for shipping is at an all-time high as people shop online as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis.

Cordero added that the pandemic is just one factor as to why the shipping industry was taking on water this year. Geopolitical negotiations between the United States and China, in what has been referred to as a trade war, prompted uncertainty in economic outlooks. A storm in the Pacific Ocean rocked a cargo ship bound for Long Beach causing some of the cargo to go overboard.

Despite the overwhelming demand, Cordero said he’s confident that goods are moving along on schedule at one of the world’s busiest ports because of various initiatives the port has taken to ensure things run smoothly.

“The supply line is stressed,” Cordero said. “We’re doing everything we can.”

One of those initiatives is the port’s STOR storage yard, which helps with container overflow. Earlier this year, some containers were seen stored at the former Boeing building near Long Beach Airport, which became an eyesore for some local residents. STOR, which stands for Short Term Overflow Resource, began operating in October and has helped reduce overflow from the port, Cordero said.

The port has also negotiated with its largest terminal-operating companies to pick up export shipments while dropping off imported goods in one delivery. This move allows the port to balance inbound and outbound cargo flow, which improves efficiency within the supply chain, according to the port.

According to the report from Transport Topics, forecasters say the surge should maintain high numbers until March 2021. Usually, shipping demand drops in January and February and port workers in Asia go on holiday for Lunar New Year celebrations. Cordero said more widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine next year could help consumers return to normalcy. In return, the shipping demand may begin to shrink to normal levels.

“While the consumer demand that we are vastly seeing is high, the public is still getting their products,” he said.

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