By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka provided an update on the state of the port’s supply chain backlog on Wednesday, addressing recent changes to its new vessel queuing system.
During Wednesday’s briefing, Mr. Seroka addressed recent media reports suggesting that the port’s new vessel queuing system was being used to disguise the true number of ships waiting to enter San Pedro Bay and dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Last week, media reports noted that multiple ships appeared to be floating off the coast of Mexico while awaiting entry to the Port of Los Angeles.
Mr. Seroka refuted these claims Wednesday, saying that the new system allows vessels from Asia to request dockside labor upon departure instead of racing across the Pacific to get in line at the port.
“There has never been and there never will be any intent to hide data or vessels headed our way,” Mr. Seroka said Wednesday. “Our goal is to present a transparent and accurate picture of the container vessel count with respect to the San Pedro Bay and adapt as necessary to changes made by the industry.”
The new queuing system, which was implemented by private sector ocean carriers and the Marine Exchange of Southern California in November, was also deployed considering environmental and safety impacts, Mr. Seroka said Wednesday.
Ships lined up outside of the San Pedro Bay waiting to dock at the ports created pollution near the harbor enclave and residential communities, Mr. Seroka noted.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 97 vessels either at anchor, drifting or slow steaming toward the San Pedro Bay, according to the Port of Los Angeles’ daily operations report. The figure is up from 89 vessels on Nov. 16 when the companies deployed the new queuing system, Mr. Seroka said Wednesday.
While efforts to address the backlog at the ports remain, Seroka said that the overall number of import containers on the docks continues to decline.
This improvement has led port officials to continuously delay imposing a “Container Dwell Fee,” which would fine ocean carriers for containers that dwelled too long at the ports. Since announcing the fee on Oct. 25, Mr. Seroka said the ports had seen a 39% drop in the overall total of containers on the docks and a 56% reduction in the number of imported containers dwelling for more than nine days.
“I’m pleased with the progress and as I told the harbor commission when it approved the plan, I hope we don’t have to administer any fees,” Mr. Seroka said. “That’s because it would mean that cargo was moving off our terminals, allowing for more ships to get to berth and cargo to be processed.”
Heading into the end of the year, Mr. Seroka said the port expects to close the year with a record volume of nearly 10.8 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) — smashing a previous record from 2018 by about 13%.
The executive director noted that several challenges remain in moving to 24/7 operations – a measure the Biden administration announced in mid-October.
Currently, the port operates at about 19 hours per day. To move to 24-hour operation, it would require warehouse workers and truckers to amend their hours of service, Mr. Seroka explained. In addition, staffing for these positions remains a challenge, as more than 400,000 warehouse jobs and 80,000 trucking positions remain open in the U.S. at this time.
Mr. Seroka also noted that the ports aim to address 71,000 empty containers on port property and lengthy street dwell times, which represents the time it takes for a container to leave the marine terminal and return. At this time, the average street dwell time is at a high of 10 days.
“That needs immediate attention as we work with stakeholders to bring that number down below four days as it was pre-surge,” Mr. Seroka said.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.