The huge backlog of cargo ships piling up off the port of Long Beach, California is making headlines. It’s a complicated situation, with multiple factors contributing to the unprecedented situation, including labor shortages at the docks, increasing ship sizes, and COVID security measures slowing the processing of cargo from each ship, as well as a sharp increase in inbound freight, among others. Well over 60 ships are waiting their turn to unload and the massive delay there, as well as at other US ports, is impacting an already shaky supply chain that has been hampered by the logistical upsets. of the pandemic.
The best way to understand how bad the problem has become is visually. With this in mind, we obtained recent satellite images of the region. The image at the top of this article was taken using satellite-based Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), with each large ship appearing as a brilliant glow against the dark ocean floor. . Here’s an even wider angle:
We also obtained optical satellite images from Planet Labs taken on September 29, 2021:
For comparison, this was taken a year earlier, September 24, 2020:
As you can see, the difference is absolutely huge, and that’s just the ships anchored nearby. Finally, we get a glimpse of what the Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder data is showing in Long Beach, and it’s remarkable to see:
As you can see in the larger shot below, there are dozens of other freighters standing further off the coast, near or north of Santa Catalina. In total, we have about 80 freighters that appear to be inactive.
With shipments to California’s largest port up nearly a third from a year ago and complications lingering from COVID-19, delays in cargo transfers have been present throughout. year, but they hit a new high for the fall shipping season. . Most of the goods shipped during this time of year are destined to supply the shelves of retail outlets during the holiday season, for example.
Delays in that number of days or weeks quickly turned into weeks or even months. Today, large logistics companies are looking for any open port on the west coast to redirect their cargo, even though this is extremely inconvenient and can break the established shipping pricing model. Of course, all of these impacts tend to snowball and lead to even more delays and inflated shipping costs down the line.
It’s also worth noting that this has been an incredibly busy weekend for the region in general, with the massive Huntington Beach air show. It is a remote air show with numbers flying over the waves and crowds of people watching from the beach. As it turns out, this big event was cut short, as Sunday’s show was canceled due to an oil spill in the immediate area of the show, which is located right next to where a group of freighters is anchored.
The spill, which was originally reported to be nearly six miles in length and 13 square miles in area, was very close to some of California’s most popular beaches, which had to be closed. The spill was the result of a leak from an offshore oil rig named Elly. The rig works to process crude oil from two other nearby rigs that are operating in the Beta oil field. Oil patches have already started to appear on Huntington Beach and surrounding wetlands. The spill is estimated at 126,000 gallons and a major containment operation is currently underway.
While some measures are put in place this may improve the situation, there is no clear indication that this congestion of freighters will soon be alleviated. In fact, it may develop further before it finally subsides. It’s another maritime reminder of the sometimes bizarre reality the post-COVID-19 world faces and the real economic impacts that continue to trickle down to the global crisis.
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