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Cargo continues to explode as Ports of LA, Long Beach have another record-breaking month in April

The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles had yet another record-setting month in April, officials there reported this week, maintaining a remarkable streak of record-breaking months that began last summer.

A day after the Port of Long Beach announced April was another record-breaking cargo month compared to last year, the Port of Los Angeles on Thursday, May 13, reported similar double-digit gains over April 2020 figures.

The numbers, in part, can be explained by the dismal import figures seen in the early months of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic initially hit and caused a widescale economic shutdown — tempering, somewhat, the year-over-year comparisons.

But the trend also reflects what is an unprecedented online spending spree by consumers who have coped for more than a year with restricted lifestyles, with most social activities and entertainment options canceled until earlier this year and still not fully back to normal.

During the pandemic, consumers have spent their money on home repairs (including setting up home offices), gardening, cooking and exercise — and have done so by flooding online shopping sites.

“We are in the midst of our best trade period in port history,” said Long Beach harbor commission President Frank Colonna, adding that the national economy still remains in “recovery mode.”

The Port of Long Beach saw a 43.6% increase in cargo container movements from April 2020 to April 2021.

In the Port of Los Angeles, cargo spiked 37% in April compared to the same month last year.

Four months into the year, overall cargo volume in the Port of L.A. has increased 42% compared to 2020.

“We have set records six of the last nine months, and the other three months were very close to new milestones,” Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka said in a virtual news conference on Thursday. “It’s truly been an unprecedented run here in Los Angeles.”

For the twin ports, the two busiest in the nation, the latest numbers were the best April figures on record in their more than 100-year histories.

In Long Beach, 746,188 twenty-foot equivalent units, the standard measurement used, were moved by dockworkers and terminal operators.

It was the first time the nation’s second-busiest seaport handled more than 700,000 TEUs in the month of April, surpassing the previous record set for that month in 2019 by 118,066 TEUs. And it was the 10th consecutive month in which the port has seen broken records.

In the neighboring Port of L.A., 946,966 TEUs came through last month, making it the best April in that port’s history and the ninth consecutive month in which there have been year-over-year increases.

The cargo surge does not only reflect strong consumer spending as the economy recovers, but also creates more work opportunities “for dockworkers, truckers, warehouse employees and others,” Seroka said.

One in nine jobs in L.A., Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties are related to the ports of L.A. and Long Beach. And overall, the twin ports create 3 million jobs nationwide, according to the Port of L.A.

The cargo surge, however, has caused congestion issues, as arriving ships have often been held at anchor outside the harbor, forced to wait as long as a week to get inside for unloading.

“It’s a triage situation every day,” Seroka said, noting that ships arrive at terminals in quick succession, sometimes causing more than 90% of the dock space to be used with unloading operations, causing a lack of maneuverability.

“It looks,” he added, “a lot like the grocery store parking lot on a weekend.”

The number of anchored ships peaked in February, Seroka said. Since then, he added, the outlook for better managing the overwhelming traffic flow has continued improving.

Aggressive vaccination programs, which have increased the workforce at the ports, and coordination with trucking companies, warehouses and terminals have helped ease the congestion, Seroka said.

“Fewer ships are going straight to anchor,” Seroka said, “and of those that do, the wait time is decreasing as our labor force and supply chain partners adeptly handle the steady stream of cargo on our docks.”

The goal, he said, is to have no ships having to wait at anchor by June so that the port can get prepared for the normal annual peak season, which hits in the summer and fall as stores load up on goods for the holidays.

“I like our chances right now,” Seroka said.

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Source: Orange County Register

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