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Vessel Backlog Grows at West Coast Ports

The number of ships waiting to dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach is growing as labor slowdowns continue, according to CNBC.

What’s going on: “On Wednesday, six vessels were delayed at the Port of Los Angeles, while two vessels at the Port of Long Beach were at anchor on arrival—unable to interface with the port operations, according to a vessel update announced by the Marine Exchange of Southern California Vessel Traffic Service, Los Angeles and Long Beach.”

  • The backlogs are the result of a long-simmering labor dispute between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association—dockworkers and their employer, respectively.
  • Earlier this week, the largest terminal operator at the Port of Long Beach closed for day and night shifts, following a weekend when many longshore workers did not show up for work. Scattered labor activity has resulted in operational disruptions at ports across the coast since last Friday.

The background: The ILWU and PMA have been negotiating terms of a work contract for more than a year, and dockworkers have been operating without a contract since last July.

Why it’s important: “Data from MarineTraffic shows that vessel problems are shifting from isolated to more pervasive. Over the past 2½ months, average wait times at anchorage in LA were between a half-day to 1½ days, with service time averaging of two to five days. ‘This indicates we’ve broken past the ‘normal’ and are back into a stressed maritime supply chain,’ said Capt. Adil Ashiq, head of North America for MarineTraffic.”

  • The disruptions—which come as peak inventory-building season begins for shippers—could ultimately contribute to the kind of container congestion seen during the global pandemic.

Pushing for White House weigh-in: On Wednesday, NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons urged President Biden to intervene in the negotiations and cited an economic study that found even a brief, localized port closure could cost the U.S. economy nearly $500 million a day.

  • “This ongoing work stoppage will exacerbate inflation and lead to dramatic economic consequences across all industrial and consumer product sectors,” wrote Timmons. “Your leadership and intervention are needed.”
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