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ZIM, Matson’s shipments to LA surge as pandemic takes toll on staff

Coronavirus 469 Corp - Ports 811 Corp - Shipping 854 Mode - Containerized 1326 Mode - Seaborne 1658 Theme - Employment 51 U.S. 4830

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are facing congestion issues in part due to high demand and in part due to staff shortages, with 800 staff having tested positive for COVID-19 or in quarantine, S&P Global Platts reports. When adding in staff who are off for related reasons the port is missing 1,800 workers meaning the port has “got more cargo than we do skilled labor“, LA Port ED Gene Seroka has said according to the LA Times. While local politicians have indicated concerns of terminal shutdowns, the port employers’ group has stated that productivity will slow but the ports likely won’t close, Journal of Commerce reports.

Panjiva’s analysis of official data for Los Angeles and Long Beach shows the degree of trade imbalance the ports have been facing with imports to the two up by 24.4% year over year in December while exports of loaded containers fell by 1.2% and empties climbed by 25.2%. The latter may in part reflect a rebalancing of global container flows at the expense of U.S. exports. The U.S. Federal Maritime Commission is investigating the container-lines’ activities in that regard, as outlined in Panjiva’s Jan. 20 research.

The ports are still facing imbalances in the new year, with 25 vessels at anchor or moving slowly in the port area as at Jan. 25 alongside more than 30 currently at dock according to VesselFinder data.

Import, export patterns out of balance in San Pedro Bay

Chart segments change in containerized freight handled at ports of LA and Long Beach by direction. Calculations based on official port data. Source: Panjiva

There are signs of the congestion and staffing issues taking their toll, with Panjiva’s U.S. seaborne import data for the first two weeks of January showing imports to the two facilities were down by 0.6% compared to a year earlier. The growth in activity through the port has been dominated by Maersk and MSC with shipments that grew by 49.0% and 57.5% year over year respectively in December as well as being the fourth and largest users of the facilities. 

The contribution of shipments from China to the wider growth in U.S. imports unsurprisingly meant that Cosco Shipping climbed by 33.1% and was the largest contributor to growth with an additional 38,973 TEUs unloaded in the month versus a year earlier. 

The fastest growth rates though were shown by the smaller lane specialists including ZIM Shipping with growth of 272.5% ahead of its IPO and Matson with a 64.6% rise on the back of its expedited China service.

Unprecedented rates of growth in shipping into LA, Long Beach

Chart segments change in seaborne imports to ports of LA and Long Beach by container line. Source: Panjiva

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