Unclogging the bottlenecks at Southern California ports may be easier said than done.
The head of the nation’s busiest container port said Thursday that he doesn’t know how quickly Port of Los Angeles marine terminals can increase to 24/7 operations, a move the White House announced a day earlier in a bid to ease supply-chain strains ahead of the holidays.
Port officials are talking to the private companies that run the gateway’s seven container terminals about the timeline for extending hours, as well as with major importers about the best times and ways to pick up their cargo, said the port’s executive director,
”We are moving as fast as possible,” Mr. Seroka said. “We’re not going to create artificial deadlines.”
The cargo backlog at the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the main gateway for Asian imports into the U.S., is a stark reflection of the cascading problems across global supply chains that have led to shortages and higher consumer costs.
More than 60 container ships were anchored in San Pedro Bay on Thursday waiting for berths at the Southern California port complex, and Mr. Seroka said another 25 ships are expected to arrive in the next three days. Before the pandemic, it was unusual for more than one ship to have to wait for a berth.
Port congestion and bottlenecks at jammed warehouses and inland freight terminals are extending the time it takes for toys, apparel and other products to get from manufacturers in Asia to U.S. retailers. It now takes more than 75 days for such a journey, according to online freight marketplace Freightos.
At that rate, goods that haven’t left China today won’t arrive until after Christmas.
John Porcari, the Biden administration official tasked with reducing port congestion, said Thursday that addressing the backlogs will require cooperation across a swath of private-sector players in the supply chain. “This is not like flipping a light switch,” he said.
The Biden administration said Wednesday it has secured commitments from six major companies to expand use of overnight hours at the Port of Los Angeles, including
Target Corp. and
Samsung Electronics Co.
The administration says that will facilitate the movement of 3,500 additional containers a week. The two ports usually move roughly 200,000 import boxes weekly.
The Southern California ports are generally open weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. They have more limited hours on Saturday and are usually closed on Sundays.
A pilot program launched last month to operate one of six terminals at Long Beach 24 hours a day, four days a week, has been slow to attract truckers because of restrictions placed on the types of boxes that can be picked up and dropped off.
Some terminal operators and port truckers have said it isn’t worth the extra expense of operating around the clock if trucking companies, warehouses and other parts of the supply chain aren’t also working 24/7 to move and store cargo. Freight operators are short on labor and equipment, adding to the strains on domestic logistics capacity.
The push to expand port operating hours “is not going to be the silver bullet,” said Douglas Kent, executive vice president of strategy and alliances at the nonprofit Association for Supply Chain Management. “If we still are logjammed on the rail networks and still suffering from truck driver shortages, it’s probably not going to be enough to resolve what we are suffering from today,” he said.
Shekar Natarajan, chief supply-chain officer at clothing retailer
American Eagle Outfitters Inc.,
said extended hours should ease some movement of goods, although big shippers that use their own private trucking fleets rather than for-hire operators on the open market would likely see more benefits.
“Mid and small shippers will still continue to battle and will experience delays,” Mr. Natarajan said, because they rely on third parties and have less direct control over their supply chains.
—Jennifer Smith contributed to this article.
Write to Paul Berger at Paul.Berger@wsj.com
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