California ports face record backlog, worsening supply chain concerns

A backlog of cargo ships waiting to get into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are helping drive up the cost of goods and services during the pandemic. A record 70 cargo ships — carrying everything from furniture and electronics to toys — are facing delays at the ports, which handle 40% of the nation’s imports. 

The backlog is likely to inject more chaos into the holiday shopping season. 

Shipping traffic is up 50% from pre-pandemic levels, Port of Los Angeles director Gene Seroka said. “The American consumer’s buying strength is so strong and epic that we can’t absorb all this cargo into the domestic supply chain,” Seroka said. “That means you’re not going to find the product you want as quickly as normal. If you’re shopping for the holidays, start now.” 

A shortage of trucks and drivers to transport the goods from the ports is adding to the concern that some store shelves may be empty during the holiday shopping season. 

“There are really on average about 16 available truckload shipments for every available truck to move product out of there,” said Bob Biesterfield, the CEO of shipping logistics company C.H. Robinson. 

He said major retailers are paying for planes to fly in goods from overseas and some are chartering entire container ships. 

“That’s something that, frankly, we’ve just never seen before,” Biesterfield said. “We expect there will be more bare shelves for the holiday season this year than people may be accustomed to.” 

Tony Jabuka, owner of The Bike Palace in San Pedro, is still waiting on the 100 new bikes he ordered last year after buyers wiped out his inventory. 

“I imagine some of them are on the ships right out here in San Pedro,” he said. “It is frustrating because you can look down into the harbor and see all the containers that are stacked five or six high.”