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A record number of container ships were stuck outside the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California last week.

It was reported that at one point 73 ships were unable to dock, whereas usually—at least prior to COVID-19—it was rare for more than one ship to queue at a time.

The reason is supply chain disruption due to a surge in demand for imports as the US economy has rebounded. The result has been shortages in raw materials and consumer goods, leading to rising prices and empty shelves.

Container cranes at the Port of Los Angeles
Credit: Steve Saunders

The two ports account for 40% of all shipping containers entering the USA. Attempts have been made to reroute the ships to nearby ports such as Oakland, but these do not have the capacity to deal with the volume.

Gene Seroka, head of the Port of LA, warned that “significant volume” was “headed our way throughout this year and into 2022”.

The disruption has been exacerbated by lorry driver shortages, a problem in both the US and Europe, which means goods aren’t being transported as frequently or efficiently from ports to their final destination; as well as international port closures such as that of Ningbo-Zhoushan in China.

Experts have suggested that businesses may need to rethink their reliance on global supply chains, sourcing parts and goods closer to home, or that there might need to be a shift back to smaller vessels to make them easier for ports to handle.

Source: BBC News (1, 2)

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