East Coast port congestion increases

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East Coast port congestion increases

U.S. port congestion has shifted from the West Coast to the East Coast, with more vessels now waiting at New York and Houston ports than Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Although the total number of container ships waiting to berth at U.S. ports has fallen from a peak of 150 at the start of the year to 125, many more vessels are waiting at facilities on the East Coast, according to an article from Seatrade Maritime News which analyzed the recent McCown Report by Blue Alpha Capital. 

“While the West Coast represented over two-thirds of containerships waiting for berths in January, it is only one-third now as the ships at anchor and resulting congestion has shifted eastwards,” the report said.

Additionally, “the last month has seen an increase in this eastward shift and now Houston and New York have as many container ships waiting for berths at Los Angeles/Long Beach combined.” 

However, the sharpest increase was noted at Savannah, which now has 42 ships waiting for berths, six times the number the port can accommodate, translating to a typical 14 day wait at anchor.

By contrast, Los Angeles/Long Beach saw an average of 22 containerships waiting at berth during June, a 33 percent drop from May, and a 79 percent reduction from the start of the year.

The growth in congestion at U.S. East Coast ports has been driven in part by deployment changes from U.S. West Coast ports by shipping lines seeking to avoid delays at Los Angeles/Long Beach and opting for the all-water route for shipments to the US East Coast. 

The threat of labour disruption at US West Coast ports with the ILWU contract covering 22,000 dockworkers expired at the beginning of this month has also “contributed marginally” to re-routing to the East Coast, according to the McCown report.

“The acceleration in the long-term shift that had already been occurring due to the underlying cost economics was driven by the early and major congestion on the West Coast.” McCown is of the view that most of the loads that have shifted will continue to be routed by U.S. Gulf/East Coast ports due to better underlying economics.

​​Going forward, continued delays at U.S. ports are expected, and the top largest U.S. ports saw 5.9 percent increase in inbound volumes in July. “With containerships now waiting at all coasts and many ports operating near or at capacity, it seems clear that further will more consistently put strain on the U.S. port system,” McCown said.


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