America’s seaports are stretched to their limit just as retailers and manufacturers are set to begin their seasonal rush of importing ahead of the fall and end-of-year holidays.
With shippers seeking to avoid the risk of delays, this year’s peak shipping season is expected to start weeks earlier than usual, at the end of June, just as back-to-school and other seasonal products flood in. That will create high stakes for importers and for the White House as goods arrive against the backdrop of a fragile economy, racing inflation and fresh memories of last year’s massive container-ship backups.
The vessel backlogs at the heart of U.S. supply-chain congestion have receded in some places, but reared up in others, including East Coast ports, while other problems that have rippled across logistics networks remain in place. Warehouses are full. Trucking companies and railroads are short workers and equipment. And container yards at ports are jammed with hundreds of thousands of boxes.
At the nation’s busiest port complex at Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., in April, containers sat in yards an average six days before being picked up by truck, and nine days to move by rail, according to the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.
“When you remember back to the fall of last year—third and fourth quarter—that was our biggest impediment, folks getting their cargo off the docks,” said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles. “We’ve got to start digging into this backlog pretty quickly.”