Shippers find new barriers in supply chain at other ports

When Flexport Inc. learned last month that a marine carrier was planning to move cargo from congested operations from the Port of Los Angeles to tiny Port Hueneme some 80 miles upstream from the California coast, the freight forwarder discovered that the companies trucks were not ready. to support the change in direction of imports.

“We spoke to trucking companies all over the Los Angeles and Oakland market and the feeling was that they couldn’t handle the volume if it went through Port Hueneme,” said Jason Parker, head of the department. company trucking.

The San Francisco-based company shifted gears, removing 200 containers from the ocean reservation and instead routing many of them to Los Angeles despite a likely longer wait to unload the goods.

“The two week delay in coming to Los Angeles on the Hueneme route was going to cause less headache for customers,” Parker said.

The choice highlighted how shippers seeking to avoid bottlenecks at major gateways by diverting cargo to other ports face difficult compromises and new questions. How do they get furniture, clothing, toys and other items to stores and warehouses far from their established supply lines and with modest transport links to other parts of the country?

Smaller ports don’t have dozens of ships stacked offshore waiting for a berth, like Los Angeles and the nearby port of Long Beach, California do. The sites have long attracted the eyes of shippers and freight forwarders, and have even chartered ships from the growing number of retailers who hire ships to bypass backups in order to get merchandise to stores for the holidays.

But most don’t have enough dockers to unload cargo or a constant supply of truckers or warehouse space to handle a surge in cargo volumes, said Anthony Hatch, rail transport analyst and director at ABH. Consulting.

“They make great stories,” Mr. Hatch said. “But they’re all on the sidelines.”

The efforts sent cargo to established West Coast gateways like the ports of Seattle and Oakland, Calif., And to destinations even further away from traditional container shipping routes. The Port of Portland, Oregon, which lost regular container service in 2016, has recovered some operations and secured charters this year. The port of Hueneme, known primarily as an import gateway for Del Monte bananas, expects its first chartered container ship to arrive in November.

East Coast ports like Baltimore and Port Tampa Bay, Florida are also announcing congestion-free operations in an effort to attract container lines and their marine customers.

The capacity of these ports is paltry compared to operations in Los Angeles and Long Beach. This complex handled just over 6 million loaded inbound containers in the first seven months of the year, nearly 40% of all container imports that landed in U.S. ports during that time, according to Beacon Economics, a Los Angeles-based research company.

Ships quickly retreated into San Francisco Bay earlier this year when container lines moved to the Port of Oakland to avoid a bottleneck in Southern California.


Photo:

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The sheer scale of importing activity has created a sprawling network of trucking, rail transportation and warehousing operations aimed at delivering imports to U.S. markets, both for the large southern consumer base of the United States. California or for distribution centers and freight hubs reaching Chicago and other inland locations. .

The high profile of ports as import gateways has grown as retailers rushed to replenish stocks that ran out earlier in the pandemic, helping to push some additional 1.1 million containers through. Los Angeles and Long Beach in the first seven months of this year they haven’t dealt with. over the same period in 2019.

The influx of imports has resulted in a traffic jam of ships waiting off berths which has persisted over the past year. The bottleneck hovered between 60 and 70 ships this fall and hit a record 79 container ships on Thursday, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

Navigating to alternative ports, however, can add weeks to the time it takes to get goods from Asia to the United States, and can lead to new costs and complications.

Rachel Rowell, spokesperson for freight intermediary CH Robinson Worldwide Inc., said moving the flow of goods requires the availability of containers, space on a ship, truck capacity and equipment, including including the chassis that attaches to trucks to allow them to transport containers. All of these may be insufficient.

“Moving entire chains is a more difficult ordeal than changing taxis on the right street, which is why moving ports is not often a preferred option and why it is difficult to do so in the street. the last minute, ”she said.

Freight forwarder Seko Logistics chartered ships in Portland, Oregon, and Jacksonville, Florida for frustrated importers. Each time, the company has to hire sea containers for the trip. He also rented additional space in Portland to manage the boxes and spent weeks finding local trucking companies capable of moving goods to distribution centers in Ohio and California.

The efforts have taken shipping costs up to $ 20,000 per box, not far from the high rates in today’s cash container shipping markets.

Moving goods from containers to trucks isn’t ideal for importers like Jim Jones, senior director of international logistics at RST Brands, a Salt Lake City-based furniture seller, who used the service. “The more the product is touched, the greater the risk of damage and loss of things,” he said.

Even so, Mr Jones said if supply chain congestion continued to thwart his attempts to import furniture, he would use the service again.

ITS Logistics moved truckers from Jacksonville, Fla. To Charleston, South Carolina to serve shippers who wanted to avoid the port of Savannah, Ga, after the ships started backing off in August and September. He has considered moving other drivers to Houston, but does not take these steps lightly.

“For the drivers and for us, it’s taxing,” said Paul Brashier, vice president of billing and intermodality at ITS Logistics, based in Reno, Nevada. locally and they are at home every night, it is a definite challenge.

Write to Paul Berger at [email protected]

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