The flow of trade is as predictive as a stream of running water following a natural drainage pattern. We can use the agnostic pattern of trade routes and container volumes to analyze the true tale of the West Coast congestion and whether trade volumes are indeed slowing.
These trade patterns can be clearly tracked in the following SONAR charts, and it shows trade is not decreasing.
While the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are expecting fewer TEUs arriving in the next seven days, the ports of Houston; Tacoma, Washington; Savannah, Georgia; and Tampa, Florida, are expecting a continued increase. Although the Port of Tampa is no Port of Los Angeles in terms of daily volume, the Florida port has seen consistent growth in the past five years.
The shifting away from the congestion at the Ports of LA and Long Beach has created winners like the Port of Tacoma. Logistics companies like SEKO Logistics are calling the port home for its charter customers.
SONAR’s Ocean TEU Volume Index shows the Port of Tacoma is up 106% year-over-year. According to Tong Zhu, chief commercial officer of The Northwest Seaport Alliance (which comprises the ports of Seattle and Tacoma), import volumes have increased to the point that three terminals — Husky, Washington United (WUT) and SSA — have instituted dwell charges on lingering containers to help clear out the box buildup.
“The ‘long stay’ charges have been implemented by individual terminals with varying start dates,” explained Zhu. “Husky and WUT terminals started the charge in mid-November and SSA Terminals started the charge today. So far, there has not been a significant decrease — yet it could be too soon to tell the impact of the charges.”
The increase in additional ad hoc services calling Husky and WUT have led to the increased volumes in the Tacoma Harbor.
“There have been over 70 ad hoc vessel calls this year, which include charters,” Zhu said. “Overall, charters represent a small portion of total vessel calls. We have had several new services start calling the NWSA gateway since the start of the year; however congestion at other ports have (has) impacted the number of vessel calls to our gateway, resulting in higher void sailings.
“Altogether, 2021 volumes are up from last year and have been on par with volumes in 2019.”
Unfortunately, the false trade rhetoric doesn’t stop there.
Recently we have been hearing and reading statements that the congestion in San Pedro Bay has decreased. While technically the congestion has decreased in the bay because of the new queuing system, that does not mean the vessels do not exist. They do.
The reporting of these vessel counts prompted Marine Exchange Executive Director Capt. J. Kipling “Kip” Louttit to write in a Nov. 29 update: “We’re developing a way to show the backup later this week. We’ve seen media develop their own graphs but don’t know and can’t validate their accuracy, assumptions, or methodologies.”
In the Wednesday update, Louttit wrote to reporters the new metrics on the queuing system should be released Friday and added, “The overall flow of container ships and big-picture backup has not changed.”
So what does the congestion look like now? Vessel tracking company VesselsValue provided American Shipper with its analysis on the number of vessels now in the new queuing system.
“As a result of the new queuing system implemented off LB/LA, we are now seeing vessels waiting much further away from the coastline,” explained Charlotte Cook, head trade analyst.
“Today’s count shows a total of 78 containers waiting (a total of 588,938 TEUs), 33 of which are waiting in the official anchorage area close to port, with a further 45 vessels waiting between 50 and 550 NM (nautical miles) out. The majority of these vessels drifting further out are drifting at between 1 and 5 knots.”
Drilling down on those vessels in waiting, VesselsValue analysis shows there is a mixture of sizes with vessels drifting far out (on the left) ranging from 3,000 TEUs up to around 13,000 TEUs, from sub-Panamax to new Panamax containers. A total of 161,848 TEUs are on the vessels around the 500-nautical-mile mark.
So what does a logistics manager do? Analyze the data metrics available to you. Remember: Containers don’t lie. The flow of trade shines a blinding light on the reality of the situation.