Words from an L.A. Longshoreman

port of la congestion ships

A California longshoreman told describes what it’s been like to work the California ports during record backlog. They chose to remain anonymous due to their job, but their identity has been verified .

I’ve been working as a longshoreman at California’s San Pedro Bay Port Complex for close to 15 years, and the only thing I know for sure about the congestion here is that everyone is blaming someone else.

The shipping companies blame us for not covering skilled-labor jobs, but they’re the ones that approve training for those types of jobs. Then we turn around and blame COVID-19 for the influx of online orders. Consumers see the ships backed up and say we’re not unloading fast enough. Truckers complain about the lack of chassis at the port, which limits the number of containers that can be carried out of the yard. It’s a total blame game.

But the blame game has to start somewhere, and this time, it started with backlogs at the port.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach saw record backlog last month, with 65 cargo ships stuck off of the coast waiting to dock and unload. Combined, the ports are the largest complex in the Western Hemisphere and handle an estimated 40% of inbound containers for the US, making them some of busiest in the world. The recent backlog is just another example of a global supply chain in crisis.

Right now, every single part of the supply chain is backed up – from the overseas shippers to the U.S. receivers – and there are no signs of it dying down anytime soon.

We’re like the Costco of ports

As a major gateway for trans-Pacific trade, everything you can imagine comes through here.

Longshoreman – or dock workers, as we are often referred to – work in commercial ports and harbors, unloading and loading cargo to and from vessels through either manual labor and by operating heavy machinery. It can be a physically demanding job most of the time, and by the end of the shift, it’s pretty normal to feel like you did the most intense workout of your life – even with an hour lunch break and two 30-minute breaks.

I’m what is referred to as an Identified Casual, meaning I get the work left over from the Regulars, who are the permanent full-time workers in the Union.

Since the pandemic, congestion at ports like mine is at an all-time high. Ships idling and anchored offshore can be seen for miles as they sit waiting for their turn to dock and have their cargo unloaded.

According to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, as of October 5, there were a total of 143 ships in port: 88 at anchor or drift areas and 55 at berths. The record at the time was 157 total ships, and that was set just last month.

Despite what it may look like, those crews aren’t exactly stranded out there in the water. There’s a ferry service that transports people back and forth from the docks, so they’re free to come on land and pick up food or supplies.

They can even go to Disneyland if they want. They might as well. There’s not much else for them to do. It’s a waiting game.

The craziest part is that despite all the logistical challenges and logjam, it’s not going to stop – and that’s because there’s still plenty of money to be made.

What we’re witnessing is a vicious cycle

Since the pandemic, more people have shopped online than ever before, increasing the number of shipments coming into our ports.

Retailers are encouraging consumers to shop early to ensure their gifts arrive in time for Christmas, causing a public frenzy and onslaught of online orders.

As long as manufacturers continue to pay warehouses to ship their products, it’s business as usual for them. The warehouses will then continue contracting with shipping companies to ship their containers out, and the ports won’t turn ships away because they make all their money in docking fees and unloading containers.

All of this has affected the delicate balance of the supply chain: Warehouses are bursting at the seams, shipping containers are in excess demand, chassis are running out, equipment is being run ragged, waterways and railways are overwhelmed, trucks and truckers are maxed out, and our yard and ports are overflowing as a result.

There’s also been a lot of talk about the port being closed on weekends, but it’s only closed to truckers on Saturdays and Sundays in an effort to manage traffic. The ports are open on weekends and we are here sorting, unloading, and loading cargo, but there’s not a lot of room in the yard because of the staggering amount of shipments we’re dealing with.

Those of us with our boots on the ground have zero say in what goes on around here. We just keep cranking away; we haven’t stopped.

Being a Casual means no two days are alike

As Casuals, we never know what our actual job is until we arrive for a shift and get assigned our tasks.

The work ranges from boring and repetitive, like driving a utility tractor rig around all day – known amongst the dock workers as the Shake and Bake, because the truck is shaky and has no air conditioning – to activities like lashing containers on the ships, which, while an extremely strenuous activity, makes the shift fly by. I’ll take that over monotonous work any day of the week.

The surge in cargo hasn’t affected our day-to-day as far as how we work, but there’s way more traffic in the yard now, and more containers are being stacked in places I’ve never seen them stacked before.

The last time I saw a backlog close to what we’re experiencing now was in 2015, when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents dock workers, and the Pacific Maritime Association, which represents all the shipping companies, were embroiled in lengthy contract negotiations, which resulted in work slowdowns and stoppages.

Some people assumed workers were striking, but the Pacific Maritime Association essentially choked us out by cutting our workload down. It was a soft lockout, and everyone was playing dirty.

Ships were backed up in the harbor while both entities struggled to work out their differences but it’s nothing compared to the number of ships out there now.

The agreement between International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association was set to expire in 2019, but both parties agreed to extend the expiration to July 1, 2022, so you’ve got to wonder how much of what’s going on here is a coincidence versus a matter of timing.

It would be catastrophic for the situation at the ports to get any worse – but it easily could

Before the backup, I worked four days a week, now I’m working between six and seven days a week.

In the past, there might have been 200 jobs available for Casuals during a shift. Now it’s often double or triple that amount. Whoever says people aren’t working because they’re sitting home on unemployment should come down here to the port to see for themselves.

The way I see it, we are all in this together. Every link in the supply chain needs to keep up their end of the bargain.

Instead of pointing fingers, we all need to lend a hand and get it done.

Source: businessinsider.com

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LA/LB Ports: Moving to 24/7

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have expanded the hours during which trucks can pick up and return containers as part of their efforts to improve freight movement and reduce delays through the ports as they continue to experience record volumes.

The Port of Long Beach will maximise nighttime operations in what the port’s executive director Mario Cordero referred to as a first step toward a 24/7 supply chain. Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka announced that the Port of Los Angeles will expand weekend operating gate hours on a pilot basis to ensure that gate availability meets cargo demands. Both ports have called on marine terminal operators to incentivise the use of all available gate hours, especially night gates, to reduce congestion and maximize cargo throughput capacity.

The ports plan to work closely with the trucking community to ensure that all truck operators understand how to take advantage of incentivised gate hours as well as the expanded opportunities that will be created to move cargo during non-peak times.

The two San Pedro Bay ports are working closely with the White House Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to alleviate bottlenecks and speed up the movement of goods to consumers, while also expanding opportunities for US exporters.

Source: splash247.com

Momentum Shipping is a full service, international freight forwarder, offering the following services:

Ocean Freight

Air Freight

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Domestic Trucking (full trailer and less than trailer loads)

Oversized Cargo

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Container Shipping Market Meltdown

The “stratospheric” freight rates and shipping lines’ huge Q2 profits have been slammed by cargo owners, and a new report claims the carrier alliances are “suppressing” cargo.

According to a market review by MDS Transmodal and the Global Shippers Forum (GSF), container traffic grew 4% in Q2, up 22% year on year, returning close to pre-Covid levels of growth.

Carriers were “effectively full”, at 90% utilisation on most tradelanes, MDS said, noting capacity shares based on vessel-sharing agreements “in some key markets” exceeded 40%.

Mike Garratt, chairman of MDS Transmodal, said: “This high level of consolidation has the benefit of enabling lines to adjust capacity allocation in line with changing demand, but, combined with the resulting very high levels of utilisation, have allowed freight rates to remain at historically unprecedented levels and imply that some potential freight may be being suppressed.

Indeed, GSF director James Hookham said shippers faced a “meltdown” of the container shipping market – “rates in the stratosphere, slots up for auction and service performance in the trash”.

He added: “What none of the industry metrics show are the huge numbers of shipments not being moved – boxes left on the quay, stacked in the terminal or stockpiled in export warehouses awaiting a slot.”

The review adds that, amid carriers’ soaring profits, operating costs per container have “barely changed” over the past 18 months, with carriers “earning more than twice per container than at the start of the pandemic.”

However, while not specifically mentioning the MDS/GSF review, liner lobby group Shipping Australia claimed there had been a “massive surge” in the costs of operating a ship. It said: “Chartering costs have surged by up to 773% since late May 2020, and marine fuel costs have near tripled from US$155.50 a tonne in April 2020, to $435.50 a tonne.

“Do not be deceived by propaganda; the costs of operating a ship are high, and they are increasing.”

The lobby group said Covid had created a demand squeeze, where the supply of shipping capacity was adapting slowly compared to the massive increase in cargo.

“If demand spikes while supply adapts slowly, prices will inexorably rise. This is basic economics,” said Shipping Australia.

At the same time, it noted, shipping lines had increased the supply of vessels, with previously-idled fleet put back to work and “non-specialist multipurpose ships, and even capesize bulkers, hired to carry containers”. And “ocean shipping has invested in massive orders for new ships and new containers”, it added.

The group also laid much of the blame for the industry’s problems on container ports, claiming the extra supply was being wasted by terminal congestion and poor port performance.

“A supply equivalent to the global fleet of the world’s biggest ships is being effectively squandered by vessels being forced to waste time in port congestion queues,” it said. “Shipping Australia urges shippers to direct their lobbying efforts to where it is truly needed – at port congestion and poor performance.”

Shipping Australia CEO Melwyn Noronha added: “Misleading statements from certain elements in the shipper community are painting a false picture of the shipping industry, which has been highly resilient and provided excellent value for money right throughout the pandemic, despite all the restrictions imposed by governments”.

Source: loadstar.com

Momentum Shipping is a full service, international freight forwarder, offering the following services:

Ocean Freight

Air Freight

Import and Export Services

Domestic Trucking (full trailer and less than trailer loads)

Oversized Cargo

Customs Brokerage

Marine Insurance