U.S. e-commerce grew by 32.4% in 2020 - the highest annual growth rate in over two decades. Such rapid growth has resulted in many more goods being imported, leaving America’s western ports completely overwhelmed.
To help you understand the scale of this issue, Visual Capitalist's Marcus Lu has visualized the number of containers waiting at sea in relation to the Port of Los Angeles’ daily processing capacity.
Stuck at Sea
As of November 2, 2021, the Port of Los Angeles reported that it had 93 vessels waiting in queue. Altogether, these ships have a maximum carrying capacity of roughly 540,000 containers (commonly measured in twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs).
On the other side of the equation, the port processed 468,059 import containers in September (the most recent data at the time of writing). Because the port does not operate on Sundays, we can conclude that the port can load roughly 18,000 containers each day.
That capacity seems unlikely to reduce the congestion. Over a two-week timeframe in September, 407,695 containers arrived at the Port of Los Angeles, which averages to around 29,000 containers arriving each day.
What’s Being Done?
Solutions are needed to prevent the backlog from causing massive economic harm. In fact, analysts believe that up to $90 billion in trade could be delayed this holiday season.
In October, the Biden administration announced a deal to expand operations at the Port of Los Angeles, enabling it to run 24/7. The port also announced it will begin charging carriers for every container that sits idle over a grace period. While only temporary, this plan has drawn criticism for its unclear objective.
“The fee is on the ocean carrier, but the control over when the cargo is to be picked up sits with the cargo recipient. Having the ocean carrier pay more does nothing to encourage the cargo interest to pick up the cargo.” – World Shipping Council
Regardless of the outcome, more permanent solutions will be required as online shopping continues to gain popularity.