Congestion Risks and Delays at North American Ports

Industry leaders are warning that pressures on the North American container shipping system are rising, risking even greater congestion in the beginning of 2021. In November, East Coast ports were challenged with handling a 30 percent year-over-year increase in imports from Asia, but have so far been able to avoid the gridlock that is gripping the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

We are now seeing bottlenecks beginning to form outside Southeast ports, which until now have maintained fluidity. Sign of delays are noticeable with cargo stacking up at nearby warehouses, truck capacity tightening, and chassis dwells lengthening, Uffe Ostergaard, Hapag-Lloyd’s president, Americas, told in a Tuesday interview. “Average turn times and berth productivity at major US ports are under pressure, reflecting increased strain on the container shipping system,” said Ostergaard.

“It’s a different narrative here,” Sam Ruda, director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, told Tuesday, although there is tightness throughout the New York-New Jersey supply chain, including mounting container dwell times at marine terminals and chassis dwell times at warehouses.

“The gateway remains pretty fluid,” Ruda said. However, three non-vessel-operating common carriers (NVOs) said early warning signs surfacing at major East Coast gateways are similar to what they saw in Southern California this summer. The Federal Maritime Commission last month launched a fact-finding mission.

Indeed, New York-New Jersey is experiencing higher equipment dwell times during the import surge, said Bethann Rooney, deputy director of the port department. Average container dwell times at the six container terminals in New York-New Jersey are five to seven days compared with three to four days normally, while average chassis dwell times at warehouses are up to 15 days from three to four days earlier this year, she said.

East Coast ports hope to avoid the congestion that Los Angeles-Long Beach has experienced from an unprecedented spike in imports since late June. Vessel bunching, delays of several days in vessel berthing, congested marine terminals, long truck lines at terminal gates, chassis shortages owing to excessive street dwell times, and import warehouses filled beyond capacity have plagued the Southern California gateway since summer.

The situation remains very fluid. We are advising clients to do the following:

  • At a minimum add two weeks to your typical transit times.
  • Plan for congestion fees from the truckers as they spend hours in the port retrieving containers.
  • Know whether your imports are affected and decide what you’re going to do about it.

If you have a question about whether your products are affected by these delays, WB Skinner may be able to help. We can tell you what impact the delays might have on your shipments, and might be able to suggest a few options to help you to avoid delays.