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Number of cargo ships off LA coast still at an all-time high, despite claims from port officials


The number of cargo ships docked off the Los Angeles coast is still at an all-time high – contradicting claims from port officials that the number of boats has dwindled in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, November 30, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka announced that there were 46 boats stationed off the shores of California‘s Long Beach and Los Angeles ports – a marked drop or more than 100 earlier in the month.

However, according to data provided by ship-tracking website MarineTraffic, there are currently nearly 100 cargo ships waiting to dock at the two popular ports – which have seen unprecedented bottlenecks during the US’ current supply chain crisis.

The inconsistency in the number of ships stems from a new policy recently employed by shipping trade groups that encouraged incoming vessels to wait out in the open ocean amid these traffic jams – rather than at the backed-up ports. 

Data provided by MarineTraffic shows that there are currently dozens of cargo ships waiting to dock at the two California ports, outside the former 40-mile zone indicating where vessels awaiting berth should dock. Port officials have reported a decrease in the amount of ships anchored off the coast, but the cited statistics do not include those outside the old zone

The inconsistency in the number of ships stems from the new policy recently implemented by shipping trade groups, which encouraged incoming vessels to wait out in the open ocean amid these traffic jams - rather than at the backed-up ports (pictured here on December 1)

The inconsistency in the number of ships stems from the new policy recently implemented by shipping trade groups, which encouraged incoming vessels to wait out in the open ocean amid these traffic jams – rather than at the backed-up ports (pictured here on December 1)

The shift in policy, announced on November 16, encourages boats traversing the Pacific, often hailing from Asia, to sit 150 miles offshore – instead of the predesignated distance of 40 miles – as they wait to unload their precious cargo, containing billions of dollars of toys, clothing, electronics, vehicles, and furniture meant for consumers across the states. 

Meanwhile, boats traveling north or south along the crowded coast were asked to sit at least 50 miles out.  

The new queueing system, announced by the Marine Exchange of Southern California, an organization that monitors ship arrivals at the two ports, will allow incoming vessels to secure a spot to pull into berth before entering the former 40-mile zone where ships previously waited to unload their cargo. 

A fleet of ships can be seen loitering off the coast of California on December 2, following last month's announcement that ships should now dock 150 miles from the popular ports

A fleet of ships can be seen loitering off the coast of California on December 2, following last month’s announcement that ships should now dock 150 miles from the popular ports 

Ships pictured anchored beyond the horizon in December. The Marine Exchange of Southern California, an organization that monitors ship arrivals at the two ports, issued a new queueing system that allowed ships to secure a spot to pull into berth before entering the 40-mile zone

Ships pictured anchored beyond the horizon in December. The Marine Exchange of Southern California, an organization that monitors ship arrivals at the two ports, issued a new queueing system that allowed ships to secure a spot to pull into berth before entering the 40-mile zone

Immediately after the announcement, which came as 86 ships sat in wait in the scenic waters of San Pedro Bay, the number of backlogged boats saw a remarkable drop to just 60 – a 30 percent reduction – in less than a week.

The next week and half saw a further drop of 16 more ships, data compiled by the Marine Exchange shows. 

The numbers of docked ships reported by the port officials have since declined even further, reports show, to the 46 announced last week by Seroka – a statistic the Port of Los Angeles exec made sure to emphasize Tuesday, which saw Labor Secretary Marty Walsh visit the port complex amid the ongoing supply chain crunch.

Statistics from the Marine Exchange show that the ports are still snarled by the supply chain crisis

Statistics from the Marine Exchange show that the number of backlogged ships waiting to dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is still on the rise, with port officials’ new policy concerning the distance from the coast that ships can dock only masking the issue

Data illustrating the number of ships waiting for berth at the US's two most popular ports are still snarled by the supply chain crisis - despite port officials' statements saying otherwise

Data illustrating the number of ships waiting for berth at the US’s two most popular ports are still snarled by the supply chain crisis – despite port officials’ statements saying otherwise

Seroka touted the statistic as a sign that the ports were moving in the right direction in regards to the crisis. 

‘Since we instituted a penalty for long-aging containers, the number of ships at anchor has decreased by more than 40 percent over a four-week period,’ Seroka said. 

The executive director of the Port of Long Beach, Mario Cordero, similarly cited the decrease as a sign of improvement.

‘I think it’s a fair representation that there’s been progress,’ Cordero told CNBC on November 24. ‘As you just noted, the president referencing the fact that the vessels at anchor have been diminished. We’re having some progress in addressing the capacity constraints at the terminals in the San Pedro Bay complex, particularly here at the Port of Long Beach.’

With that said, the statements from the pair of port officials seem to conveniently ignore the abundance of vessels that were – and currently are – stationed dozens of miles offshore due to the ports’ new queuing policy, which officials say was implemented in an effort to quell pollution being pumped into the neighborhoods near the ports.

Now, cargo ships currently waiting to dock at the California coast – some of which have sat in wait for months, according to data from MarineTracker – sometimes more than 100 miles off the coast, as far off as the waters around Mexico or Taiwan.

On Tuesday, November 30, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka (at right) announced that the port had seen a marked decrease in the amount of ships waiting to berth. In reality, the ships were just further off-shore

On Tuesday, November 30, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka (at right) announced that the port had seen a marked decrease in the amount of ships waiting to berth. In reality, the ships were just further off-shore

As of Sunday, there were 96 ships waiting to enter the ports of LA and Long Beach, with 56 of them stationed more than 40 miles away, in the ports’ new exclusion zone, according to data derived from the Marine Exchange. 

What’s more, an additional 31 ships were docked and in the process of being unloaded, bringing the total up to 127.

According to data provided by MarineTracker, many of these ships have been sitting in the Pacific since October.

The contentious shift in port policy comes shortly after President Joe Biden announced last month that his office would allow the Port of LA to run for 24 hours in an effort to quell the crisis.

As of Sunday, there were 96 ships waiting to enter the ports of LA and Long Beach, with 56 of them stationed more than 40 miles away, in the ports' new exclusion zone, data derived from the Marine Exchange reveals. An additional 31 ships were docked and in the process of being unloaded as well, bringing the total amount of ships to more than 120

As of Sunday, there were 96 ships waiting to enter the ports of LA and Long Beach, with 56 of them stationed more than 40 miles away, in the ports’ new exclusion zone, data derived from the Marine Exchange reveals. An additional 31 ships were docked and in the process of being unloaded as well, bringing the total amount of ships to more than 120

Following the announcement, which came as 86 ships sat in wait in the scenic waters of San Pedro Bay, the number of backlogged boats saw a remarkable drop of 26 ships - a 30 percent reduction - in less than a week. The next week and half saw 16 more ships leave the two ports

Following the announcement, which came as 86 ships sat in wait in the scenic waters of San Pedro Bay, the number of backlogged boats saw a remarkable drop of 26 ships – a 30 percent reduction – in less than a week. The next week and half saw 16 more ships leave the two ports

Supply chains have lagged far behind consumer demand in recent months ahead of the holiday season, due to a lack of manpower at ports all over the US and the restrictions that came with the COVID-19 outbreak early last year. 

These constraints, which include social distancing and mandatory quarantines, have severely limited the number and ability of port workers to do their jobs. 

The ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach –  the two most popular shipping destinations in the US – are currently housing vessels that have been left anchored for weeks – a situation that has been the logistical norm for months now, and getting worse as time goes on.

In September, the ports at on point saw more than 70 ships waiting to unload their cargo.

In October, that number jumped to more than 100.

Last month, meanwhile, saw similar numbers – until the ports’ recent announcement concerning their amended policy. 

However, if one was to look further ashore, the numbers are still just as high – with The LA Times

Together, both of the ports situated in San Pedro Bay are responsible for 40 percent of US imports – and billions of dollars worth of goods. 



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