A record number of container ships are stuck waiting to enter California’s two largest ports as labor shortages and COVID-19 disruptions continue to roil a supply chain that’s being pushed to its limits ahead of the busy holiday shopping season.
A total of 46 freight ships are at anchor or in a drift area waiting to enter the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which operates the Vessel Traffic Service for those two ports, reported late Monday evening.
“Trend at anchor and in drift areas is essentially steady next 3 days,” the group said in a statement. “Through it all, port partners are keeping your Marine Transportation System safe, secure, reliable, and environmentally sound, despite not being efficient at this time due to the backup.”
The group also shared a picture on Twitter of container ships lined up at sea, waiting to enter the ports.
Kip Louttit, the executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, told Insider previously that the “normal number of container ships at anchor is between zero and one.”
The California ports are key to importing goods from China as they account for about one-third of all US imports.
The ports have seen heavy congestion during the pandemic as US demand for goods that are manufactured overseas soared and pandemic-relations restrictions depleted workforces and hampered operations.
In the first and second quarters of 2021, traffic at the Port of Los Angeles was up almost 60 percent and 55 percent, respectively, according to data from the port.
The importing woes come during one of the busiest months of the year for US-China trade relations, as retailers try to stock up ahead of US holidays and China’s Golden Week in October, according to Bloomberg.
And demand is unlikely to slow down in the second half of the year, historically the ports’ busiest time.
Analysts and retail executives have been warning that supply could be constrained this fall and winter as Americans try to buy holiday gifts.
“There is going to be a major shortage of toy products this year,” MGA Entertainment CEO Isaac Larian recently told CNN. “The demand is going to be there. What is not going to be there is the product to fill the demand.”
Larian’s company owns and distributes toys including Little Tikes, Rainbow High dolls, Bratz dolls and LOL Surprise!, one of the most popular toy brands of recent years.
“We’ve had hundreds of containers on 46 ships sitting in the ocean at the port of LA and Long Beach for the past 30 days,” he told CNN. “There are people to unload it, but there are not enough trucks to pick it up.”
Executives at bigger toy companies like Hasbro and Mattel, on the other hand, have said they’ll be able to get the supply they need for the rest of the year, but it’s going to cost them more and they’ll be passing those costs on to customers.
“We have the inventories to meet the demand that we need for the second half of the year,” Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call in July.
“It’s a little different than past years where direct import could play a bigger role than it has in the past. But again, working with our retailers around the world, we feel, most importantly, we want to meet the high demand.”