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California Backlogs Haven’t Decreased, Issue Is Over Horizon


  • The majority of ships in the Southern California port jam are waiting hundreds of miles out at sea.
  • Satellite and AIS data show how the backup has evolved over the past month.
  • The executive director of the Port of Los Angeles said delays will last until the end of 2022.

Backlogs at the nation’s largest ports have shifted about 300 miles off the coast — pushing the vessels out of sight.

As of Thursday there were 97 ships waiting to dock at the ports in Los Angeles and long Beach, 68 of which were waiting at least 150 miles off the coast, per the Marine Exchange of Southern California’s master queuing list.

Snapshots from MarineTraffic, an online vessel tracking platform, show how the traffic jam has shifted, as ships wait further down the coast, even pushing to slow speed or anchor outside of Mexico.

Earlier last week, maritime trade publication American Shipper reported that as many as 10 ships were lingering in Asian waters off Japan, Taiwan, and Ningbo, waiting for a spot to open up at the ports.

Marine Traffic


Even the furthest vessels along the bottom of the snapshot are headed to the ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach, according to the data from MarineTraffic.

What’s more, satellite data from Spire Global shows how the majority of the container ships are waiting over 300 miles out from the ports.

Spire Global

Courtesy of Spire Global

The new queuing process looks drastically different from the previous traffic jam. Previously, the ships had become something of a spectacle in the Southern California, as residents captured pictures of the ships parked along the coast from nearby beaches, as well as the Los Angeles International Airport.

Spire Global captured an image of what the backup looked like right before the new policy was implemented last month.

port la/lb

Courtesy of Spire Global

The new regulation aims to improve air quality along the California coast by moving ships at least 100 miles further out to sea than previous standards. It went into effect the day after the port broke an all-time record as 179 ships were recorded at the locations. 

But, mere weeks later Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles said during a press conference that the number of ships waiting to dock had decreased by over 40%. Logjam reports from the ports dropped by 25 ships in a week, even as another 32 ships waited further out at sea, as the ports began only reporting the ships that were queued within 40 miles of the ports.

Sal Mercogliano, professor of maritime history at North Carolina’s Campbell University, told the Los Angeles Times he saw the reports as a “little disingenuous.” He said that conflating the number of ships nearby with the total backlog was “an apples-to-oranges comparison.”

At the time, the number of container ships within 40 miles of the port had diminished significantly. But, many more ships were waiting just a couple hundred miles further on the horizon via the new queuing system — a number the ports did not begin openly reporting until earlier this week.

On Tuesday, Seroka told Bloomberg he anticipates the port delays will continue into the end of next year.

“We’ve got to keep working,” Seroka told The Times last week. “But we’ll take the small wins,” he added.

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