More Than 100 Cargo Ships Were Waiting to Unload in Southern California This Week, an All-Time High

It's another example of what the global supply crisis looks like at its worst.

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An aerial image taken on October 15, 2021 shows cargo shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.
An aerial image taken on October 15, 2021 shows cargo shipping containers at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California.
Photo: Patrick T. Fallon / AFP (Getty Images)

If you want to know what a global supply chain crisis looks like at its worst, all you have to do is check out what happened at southern California’s ports this week.

The state’s port complex in Los Angeles and Long Beach at one point had more than 100 ships waiting to unload their cargo in recent days, an all-time high, the Guardian reported. For a complex used to seeing less than 20 ships at anchor pre-pandemic, the wave of traffic is staggering. Unfortunately, this isn’t something new for the port complex, which has been on a record-breaking streak for months.

In June, for instance, the port in Los Angeles became the first one in the Western hemisphere to receive 10 million container units in a 12-month period, according to the outlet. Just last month, the Los Angeles port had its busiest September ever. Meanwhile, in Long Beach, some expect the port to process more than nine million container units this year, which would be the most in the port’s history.


On Thursday, Mario Cordero, the executive director of the Long Beach port, advised people to shop for holiday gifts early this year because of the crisis. The ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach—which are the nation’s first and second-largest ports, respectively—handle 40% of container imports and 30% of exports in the U.S.

“Shop early, because these delays and bottlenecks are going to continue to the end of the year,” Cordero told Bloomberg. “Hopefully we’ll have some strong mitigating factors.”


Not all experts want consumers—or retailers and manufacturers, for that matter—to follow Cordero’s advice, though. Retailers and manufacturers have been overordering or ordering too early during the crisis, which is only making the problem worse, CNBC found.

“Because the problems are well known, orders for raw materials, component parts, and finished goods are now being placed earlier than normal, which is lengthening the queue, creating a vicious cycle,” RBC Wealth Management said in a note in mid-October, according to CNBC.


The Biden administration has struggled to revolve the crunch, which is also affected by a shortage of trucks, drivers, and warehouse workers, at the nation’s ports. Some of its initiatives have included increasing the capacity at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports by moving to a 24/7 schedule and getting the nation’s three largest goods carriers—Walmart, FedEx, and UPS—to operate on that schedule as well. The administration is also reportedly looking into deploying the National Guard to help ease the crisis, CNN reported.

Higher prices and longer wait times for products are bad, of course, but the supply chain and shipping crises are even worse news for the planet. Ships waiting to unload their cargo release pollutants while they’re anchored, and there are a whole lot of ships anchored these days. Shipping itself is responsible for 2.2% of global carbon emissions. One estimate found that one giant container ship emits the same amount of pollution as 50 million cars.