cargo container ship

As more than sixty cargo ships sit idle outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, American retailers are preparing to avoid a major shortage ahead of the holidays. Port employees state that prior to the pandemic, cargo ships had a zero day wait once they came into the ports. Due to a lack of employees, these same ships are now facing a ten day wait before they are unloaded.

Social media has been rife with rumors as to the cause of this supply chain issue. Some posts have inflated the number of ships to nearly 1,000; these same posts have stated that the ships weren’t allowed to unload. However, the most recent reports show that the actual number of cargo carriers is more like 50 – 60; they ARE being unloaded, just at a very slow rate.

Some sources say the slow rate of unloading these ships is due to a lack of port employees; others say there is a shortage of truck drivers to get the merchandise to the store. Let’s take a look at what is really happening.

Although readers should always take social media posts with a certain amount of skepticism, the posts are somewhat factual. The posts that began circulating mid-September showed pictures of loaded cargo ships waiting to get into the ports along Long Beach and Los Angeles in California. We do know that there are a record amount of ships sitting in this area waiting to be unloaded. However, a more accurate number of ships would be between fifty and sixty.

These social media posts are having an effect on the way people shop; rumors are flying that there will soon be no merchandise on the shelves of stores. Everything from artificial Christmas trees to toys to cleaning supplies are brought into the United States via these ships. While panic buying similar to the run on toilet paper from the early days of COVID has yet to occur, people online are saying they’re going to go ahead and begin holiday shopping.

As these social media posts spread, retailers such as Walmart, Target, and Costco are taking preventive measures. They are hiring their own cargo ships in order to get supplies from overseas partners and hopefully prevent the shortages expected from this supply chain issue some are referring to as “containergeddon.”

Our ports on the West Coast are responsible for at least fifty percent of the products customers across the United States are accustomed to seeing on store shelves. Retail giants such as Walmart and Target state that a resurgence in COVID in places like Vietname and Indonesia is freezing up products manufactured in those countries.

A managing director for Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting business, has claimed that if the West Coast port situation does not improve, that up to one quarter of the products on ships waiting to be unloaded will not make it to store shelves by Black Friday.

One reason for the backlog of unloaded cargo ships is something not too many people are discussing – shipping itself is on the rise. 2020 was a record year for shipping products, but this year, the number of products shipped into the United States – at least at the West Coast ports – is up thirty percent over last year’s record shipping numbers. The executive director of the Port of Los Angeles compared this shipping increase to a traffic jam on the freeway: “It’s like taking 10 lanes of freeway traffic and squeezing them into five.”

Of course, it’s important to understand that chartered cargo ships can bypass some of the chaos present at the ports. That’s because chartered cargo ships – such as the flying buttress ships that are being commandeered by the retail giants – can skip port authority docks and unload at bulk cargo docks. In addition, the chartered cargo ships are larger than a typical cargo ship.

The flying buttress cargo ships measure in at fifty-three feet in length compared to the forty feet traditional cargo ships.

At the same time, customers need to be aware of obstructions that could occur at other ports, such as smaller cranes to unload chartered cargo ships. However, the big retailers are doing as much as they can to avoid a shortage of goods for the upcoming holidays.

Consumers should continue to practice smart purchasing practices and avoid panic buying as the holidays approach.