North America's biggest container port faces record backlog

By Alexandra Meeks and Chris Isidore, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- Approximately 200,000 shipping containers remain on ships off the coast of Los Angeles on Monday as pandemic-related gridlock continues to disrupt various supply chains, according to Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles.

"We have about two weeks' worth of work sitting at anchor right now," Seroka said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper. His port is trying to unload and then prioritize the cargo that needs to move off the port as quickly as possible.

"There's product that needs to get out there in super-fast speed," he said. "Think about the toys, the other Christmas product, and parts and components for factories.

The port has made some progress moving containers off the docks since President Joe Biden announced at a White House supply chain summit last week that the port would move to a 24/7 operating schedule. The port is the nation's largest in terms of container volume.

"We had 25% of all cargo on our dock sitting here for 13 days or longer [and] that's been cut in just about half over the last week," Seroka said.

The backlogs have mostly been caused by a crush of goods coming from Asia.

American consumers who have been spending less on services, such as travel or going to movies or other events, have been spending more money on goods, from household goods to automobiles. And the rise in imported goods and items that are built here with foreign sourced parts have resulted in more container volume trying to get through the ports than before the pandemic.

While the longer hours has alleviated some of the congestion at the ports, Seroka said executives expect the crush of goods won't slow down until February 2022, at the earliest.

"We've been buying more than ever as American consumers and the retailers have really tried their best to keep up with demand," Seroka said. "The second quarter of next year is going to be focused on replenishing this inventory."

Because of that, Seroka expects the 24/7 schedule will to continue into next summer, not just for the 90-day period announced by Biden at the White House supply chain summit.

"We're going to have to work all out," he said. He said part of solving the problem is finding the truckers and trucks to move the containers away from the the port. He said about 30% of the available appointments for trucks to pick up loads at the port are currently going unused.

"We've to take advantage of that latent capacity and squeeze every minute and every hour of efficiency out of the port that we can," he said. But a shortage of truck drivers means not enough people are available to handle that work.

Around the world, ports are congested as a result of the rapid rebound in demand for commodities and goods as much of the global economy has recovered from the pandemic. Shipping costs have soared, and companies wanting to move goods around are struggling because there just aren't enough ships or containers available. All the while prices are going up for consumers.

-- Anneken Tappe contributed to this report

-- Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated officials are not expecting to see the import market strengthen until February 2022. In fact, officials said imports moving through the port are expected to remain at elevated levels at least until February 2022.

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