By Kim Link-Wills of Freight Waves,
The Port of Los Angeles continued its record-setting streak, posting the busiest April in its 114-year history.
“It’s truly been an unprecedented run here in LA,” Executive Director Gene Seroka said during a media briefing Thursday.
The Port of LA handled 946,966 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in April. “That’s a 37% spike compared to last year, when global trade dropped with the onset of the pandemic,” Seroka said. “This was by far the busiest April in the port’s 114-year history, outpacing the previous record set just back in 2019 by a hefty 29%.”
He said the port has recorded nine consecutive months of year-over-year volume increases following 11 straight months of declines. “Remarkably, we have continued to average 900,000 TEUs per month dating all the way back to last July.”
The port handled 89 container ships last month, up from 76 in April 2020. And those vessels are being handled efficiently, Seroka said. “We averaged 16 container vessels per day at berth last month. Please remember, before the surge our average was only about 10.”
Port congestion also has eased, according to Seroka.
“We’ve seen as few as 13 container vessels at anchor in the San Pedro Bay over recent days,” he said, noting there were 17 ships at anchor, with eight of them bound for the Port of LA, as of late morning Thursday.
“Another encouraging sign: Fewer ships are going straight to the holding area. We’ve dropped from 90% in February to 65% of vessels heading straight to anchor in the month of April. Average wait time is now 6.7 days after peaking out at 7.9 days in March,” Seroka said.
He noted that nine vessels were at anchor on April 30, representing an additional 132,000 TEUs that will be included in the May numbers.
Although congestion has eased, imports haven’t let up, Seroka said, reporting April import volume totaled 490,127 TEUs, a 32.4% year-over-year increase.
“Exports, however, continue to drag, with less than 115,000 TEUs on that side of the ledger, down 12%. Exports have now dropped 27 of the last 30 months here at Los Angeles,” he said.
“April’s import-export ratio was almost 4.3-to-1, which unfortunately is the highest gap we’ve seen yet,” Seroka said. “And the scramble for empties continues, with over 342,000 empty container units repositioned back to Asia in April. That’s just a few thousand TEUs shy of last month’s all-time record” and an 81.6% increase from April 2020.
The figures for the first four months of 2021 are “off the charts,” he said. “We handled more than 3.5 million TEUs, a 42% increase compared to 2020.”
Seroka noted that total volume from Jan. 1 to April 30 was up 20% compared to the same period in “less-volatile” 2019.