U.S. Ports Face Peak-Season as Anchorages Fill

The fear voiced by Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka earlier this year was that “we will still have vessels at anchor come midsummer,” when terminals pivot to handling the peak season rush starting around August 1.

It is now midsummer. There are still vessels at anchor — a lot of them.

Logistics consultant Jon Monroe warned Thursday, “Now we have a myriad of charter carriers all introducing vessels into a China-Pacific Southwest service at the same time the large carriers are adding extra loaders. Expect the West Coast to be slammed the entire month of August. We are entering gridlock plus.”

The number of container ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach rose back to 30 on July 23. There were 27 at anchor on Friday.

The all-time record — 40 — was set on February 1. Beginning in mid-March, San Pedro Bay anchorage numbers gradually declined as ship arrivals were curbed, both intentionally by carriers to get schedules back on track and unintentionally because their ships fell too far behind. 

The 2021 low — nine container ships at anchor in San Pedro Bay — was hit on June 18, as fallout from the port closure in Yantian, China, further pared arrivals.

The following day was the turning point. On June 19, the total number of ships in the complex (at berths in Los Angeles and Long Beach, and at anchor) fell to 30. It hadn’t been that low since mid-October, when the anchorages first started to fill.

After June 19, the respite ended. Delayed Yantian cargo started to arrive. Import demand heading into peak season brought more ships. Between June 19 and Friday, the total number of ships in the complex increased 80% and the number of ships at anchor jumped 170%.

The data confirms that more ships calling in Los Angeles/Long Beach (both at berth and anchor) equate to a higher percentage of ships at anchor. Since the trend reversed on June 19, the share of ships at anchor versus the total has risen back up to 45%-55%, moving in the direction of the 60%-65% peak seen in the first quarter.

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.

(Read full story with detailed graphics via Freight Waves)