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Empty containers at Southern California ports can reportedly be seen 'strewn throughout the region' from 80 miles away

Aerial view of shipping containers sitting stacked at Nansha Port, operated by Guangzhou Port Group Co., on June 8, 2021 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

  • Shipping containers are creating a major backlog on land outside Southern California ports.
  • About 110,000 empty containers are stacked at port terminals and thousands fill nearby streets and yards.
  • The surplus of containers is making it more difficult for supply-chain workers to move goods efficiently.

A glut of empty shipping containers in Southern California have accumulated on nearby roads and shipping yards.

The shipping container congestion spans up to 80 miles away from the port, Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of Los Angeles told The Wall Street Journal. Seroka said that he saw “containers strewn throughout the region” during a recent helicopter tour.

While the nation’s largest ports are facing a historic backlog of cargo ships, shipping containers have created similar issues on land. About 110,000 empties are stacked at port terminals on a typical day and thousands more are piled in private yards and lined along nearby streets, officials told the publication. The containers represent a significant bottleneck in the supply chain and a hurdle for ports and warehouses that are running out of space, as well as truckers who face a shortage of chassis.

The ports have been struggling to get companies to pick up their goods, while at the same time carriers have faced difficulty returning empty containers. In October, the ports reported that the amount of time unloaded shipping containers lingered in the locations hit a record, as carriers struggled to find space in overbooked warehouses. At the same time, empty shipping containers flooded nearby shipping yards and neighborhood streets.

“It’s a serious concern,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero told The Journal. “They take up space at the docks and they take up space at the terminals.”

At the twin ports, space is at a premium. Longshoremen at the ports previously told Insider that the shipping containers have made it more difficult to unload cargo ships, as well as organize the containers that are loaded onto outgoing trucks.

“Half of my shift is just trying to make sense of all the containers,” a clerk at the Port of Los Angeles said.

For truckers, the surplus of containers has made it difficult to pick up goods, and return empty containers. Five truckers previously told Insider there are days when they show up at ports and are turned away, because either their container has yet to be unloaded, the terminal is no longer accepting empty containers.

Another trucker told The Wall Street Journal that it’s nearly impossible to secure an appointment to return empty containers. Leslie Luna, freight coordinator for Luna and Son’s Trucking, a small, short-haul trucking firm in Commerce, California, said there are times when she stays up till 3 a.m., continually refreshing appointment booking websites looking for slots to return containers, likening it to playing the lottery.

Several companies have been working to address the surplus of shipping containers. Multiple retailers, including Walmart, have begun using nearby lots as pop-up container yards for processing incoming goods and returning empty containers. Last month, the Southern California ports announced they would begin fining carriers that left their goods at the ports longer than six to 9 days. Though, the ports have delayed the fine several times since, saying container dwell time has gone down in recent months.

Read The Wall Street Journal’s full story on their website.

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