Why a record number of container ships are chilling off the coast of California

As retailers prepare for the holiday season, a record number of container ships attempting to bring imported goods to the US are stuck off the coast of California, another victim of ongoing disruptions to the global supply chain.

Sixty-five ships waited to dock in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in the San Pedro Bay on Sept. 16, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a record high. Captain Kip Louttit of the Marine Exchange told Quartz that as many as 23 of these ships are in a drift zone, meaning there is no room for them to anchor in the water.

The line of container ships waiting in the bay has been steadily rising all week, reaching new highs every day. AS SERAFINA, which arrived in Long Beach on August 25, has been there the longest, according to Louttit. The ship, which has arrived from Shanghai, seems… to deliver goods to companies, including Samsung C&T America, according to the Marine Traffic website.

How is shipping coping with the end of the lockdowns?

Shipping companies have been dealing with the effects of supply chain disruptions since March last year, when consumer demand slowed due to pandemic lockdowns and ocean liners were taken offline as manufacturers closed their doors. The shipping industry has still not caught up with rising demand from reopened economies.

With the holiday season approaching, imports from the US are on the rise, causing blockades at major ports across the country. A recent Bloomberg analysis found that the number of container ships waiting to enter the top three US ports has been steadily rising since July.

Moreover, warehouses are becoming increasingly full and freight volume is piling up due to bottlenecks in the supply chain. Although there are approximately 2 billion square feet of warehouse space in Southern California, Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, told Bloomberg on June 30 that these warehouses were “overcrowded”. There is often not enough space for container ships to unload deliveries, even when they finally dock.

“All the parts of the supply chain are kind of stacked on top of each other,” he added.

What does this accumulation of container ships mean to you? In a September 16 CNBC interview, Seroka repeated the message that many retailers have been sending to customers in recent weeks: do your Christmas shopping on time and be aware of delays.