The US import logistics chain is experiencing an unprecedented bottleneck. As noted by maritime industry analyst Jon Monroe, 30 to 40 vessels are waiting for a berth in the ports of Southern California, which accounts for nearly 50% of all US imports from China. In addition, according to Jon Decesares, from WCL Consulting, the maritime terminals of these ports are congested (there is no more space for containers), COVID has caused a shortage of qualified operators at the docks, there are long lines of trucks waiting at the terminal gates, and there is a shortage of available chassis (monopolized by truckers).
John McLaurin, the President of PMSA, said an importer had described the situation as follows: "I can't get a reservation in China. If I get the reservation, I can't get the container. If I get the container, I can't get the space. If I get the space, the ship will keep waiting outside the port for a week to ten days. When the ship finally unloads, I may not get a chassis. If I get a chassis, I'll have to wait for some time before the container is picked up. Finally, if I pick up the container, the warehouse is most likely full."
Ships are rerouted to Oakland, Tacoma, and Seattle
In light of the situation in southern California, shipowners are withdrawing their ships from these ports and are relocating them to new services in Oakland, Tacoma, and Seattle, which delays operations by 7 to 10 days, stated Jon Monroe.
2020 was a watershed year for shipping lines in which power shifted from the BCOs and NVOCCs to their hands. "Thus, we can expect that they will be firmer and more confident in their negotiations," said Monroe. "Everybody wants the best rate, but this year it's safer to bet on a decent rate with space guarantees," he added.
If 2020 is an indicator of what is to come, the lowest rates will find neither equipment nor space, he stated. According to his projections, basic ocean rates will stand between $2,700 and $3,200/FEU to the US west coast, and nearly $1,000 more expensive to the East Coast.
However, not all US ports are experiencing a collapse. "Pat Dinon, who represents the port of Charleston (east coast of the US), has told me that they have no ships waiting to dock, no port congestion, no shortage of chassis. In addition, it seems that they are about to add another terminal shortly," he added.