The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed supply chains in many ways, from outbreaks and closures to short-staffed ports, storage facilities, and truck driver pools. In addition, people have adopted new ways of shopping that put more burden on shipping than ever before.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have long been overburdened with container ships carrying cargo into and out of the West Coast. These two are the busiest ports in America, followed by Oakland to the north. High levels of imports are adding to the congestion, breaking new records for volume on a monthly basis. On the export side, all three of these California ports are vital for agricultural commodities, as they are the top ports for agricultural exports transported by ship.
Peak Shipping Season Approaches
September begins the peak shipping season, leaving experts concerned about the ability to meet the demands of the upcoming holiday season. A key variable that plays into the delays and congestion is port closures, which have occurred recently in Yantian, Ningbo, and elsewhere.
Even the East Coast of the United States is showing congestion and offshore anchorages due to berth congestion. Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, recently described packed railroads, full warehouses, bursting port terminals, and waiting ships. The entire supply chain is moving at levels never imagined, yet that is still not enough.
An Incredible Year
It has been an incredible year for many reasons, including the creative solutions to solve the shipping crisis. With the continued increases in demand, the delays and congestion are not abating. Dozens of ships continue to be anchored off the coasts of the major ports hoping for a place to dock soon. The maritime sector is seeking opportunities from digitalization to enhance the coordination and synchronization of the maritime supply chain network. For example, Just-In-Time (JIT) Arrival, where a ship modifies speed to arrive just as the Pilot Boarding Place becomes available, may have a positive impact on congestion as well as lowered greenhouse gas emissions. This and other data-driven innovations could give a higher degree of efficiency and predictability to the industry.