San Pedro, United States – March 28, 2018: Ships, containers, and railways at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, California; the busiest seaport on the west coast of the United States, shot wide angle from an altitude of about 1500 feet during a helicopter photo flight.
Back in September of 2021, the Port of Savannah, Georgia suffered a severe logjam. The fourth-largest gateway in the US for seaborne imports, Savannah was mired in a backlog of 20 plus container ships that remained idle on the waters adjacent to the port.
The West Coast is more accustomed to backlogs of this scale. Long Beach and Los Angeles ports have a history of congestion. In fact, around the same time, the Marine Exchange of Southern California measured up to 66 container ships and 73 vessels off the Southern California ports. But 20 plus vessels were new for Savannah and as a result Georgia’s port authority fast-tracked a $34 million injection to expand Savannah’s container storage capacity. The port began adding space to eventually hold 1.6 million more containers over 20-foot equivalent units. The measure seemed to work until recently.
Savannah is embroiled yet again in another bottleneck. As of late July, up to 40 vessels have been backed-up raising new concerns of supply-chain disruptions. After clearing last year’s backlog Savannah registered nothing in the spring of 2022. But ships have had trouble arriving at berths in recent weeks as demand has more than doubled as compared to pre-pandemic times. Major retailers have been moving up their back-to-school and pending holiday imports which are testing Savannah and others.
The Port of Savannah handles an estimated 2.9 million containers per year. The previously mentioned $34 million upgrade expanded storage capacity, but one of Savannah’s berths is under construction and that is complicating the current situation. Unfortunately for the port, construction is not slated to be completed until 2023.
Southern California ports are picking up the slack with this pandemic-fueled retail boom. Los Angeles and Long Beach have registered as few as 17 backlogged vessels (a good sign for the west coast) and the Port of Charleston in South Carolina is prepping for increased traffic due to Savannah’s issues. Charleston is 100 miles north of Savannah and all clear for the moment. They had similar concerns in February of this year (30 container ships waiting for berths) but appear to be in a favorable position to mitigate the pressure on Savannah.
Meanwhile, some analysts think the problem could solve itself if retailers begin pulling back orders due to excess inventories and less demand as consumer spending declines. Big retailers like Target, Walmart, Macy’s, and Kohl’s are sitting on lots of products, many of which are no longer selling at the levels during the pandemic – workout equipment, apparel, and furniture to name a few. Less demand for future ellipticals means less vessels to berth.
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