Southern California Ports Struggle to Trim Cargo Backlog as Omicron Surges

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Covid-related absenteeism sidelined nearly 800 dockworkers at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this week

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The association, which secures labor for terminal operators on the West Coast, said the number of daily worker infections has risen sharply in recent weeks, from several cases a day to dozens and then one last week. Around 150 a day.

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The shortage meant that two container ships at the port premises on Monday received fewer dockworkers than requested and 13 ships received no requested personnel to load or unload cargo, effectively halting operations. On the same day, 102 container ships waited for a berth in the port complex, according to the Maritime Exchange of Southern California, which monitors ship movements in the area.

Dozens of ships have waited weeks or months to unload cargo at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as the crush of imports hit logistics operations that deliver goods to US markets. Backlog increased to 100 ships at the end of November and a record 106 ships on New Year’s Day. Before the pandemic it was unusual for more than one ship to wait for berths.

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Alan McCorkle, chief executive of Usen Terminals LLC in the Port of Los Angeles, said the rise in coronavirus infections has exacerbated a worker shortage that began over the Christmas and New Year holidays, reducing productivity at his terminal by about 20% Went. “It’s just going to prolong the catch-up,” he said.

Dockworkers helped move record cargo volumes last year and are just as susceptible to Covid infections as other workers, said Frank Ponce de Leon, an official at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which represents West Coast port workers. Is. Los Angeles County, where many port workers live, reported 200,000 positive coronavirus cases for the week ended January 8, a record.

The labor shortage in Southern California comes as rising Covid-19 cases ripple through global supply chains, slowing production at US factories and closing factories and closing ports in China. Denmark-based maritime consulting firm Sea-Intelligence APS said in a report on Tuesday that port congestion and bottlenecks are increasing in the US and Europe.

The Southern California port complex is the main ocean gateway for US imports from Asia, handling approximately 40% of containerized cargo. Ports struggled to handle record import volumes last year, which rose nearly 20% compared to pre-Covid levels in 2019, as businesses rushed to restore inventory and Americans braced for their pandemic-era recovery. Converted expenses from services to goods.

The Biden administration last year took measures aimed at reducing the backlog, including efforts to move Southern California terminals to 24-hour operations, which had had limited success.

Noel Hasegaba, deputy executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said in a statement that the port’s terminals remain open and continue to offer some extended hours despite an increase in worker infections. The Port of Los Angeles sent questions about labor shortages to the Pacific Maritime Association.

The association’s chief executive Jim McKenna said if factories in Asia reduce operations during the Lunar New Year, which begins in a few weeks, terminals may be able to hold some work backlogs. But he cautioned that most of his members, including the world’s largest ocean carriers, expect the cargo boom to continue for another six months, if not the end of 2022.

Write [email protected] . on Paul Berger

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