Ships Stuck in the L.A. and Long Beach Ports in California


This creative commons image depicts shipping containers in the ports of Long Beach in 2015 before the backup.

Zara Morgan, Managing Editor/Features Editor

As of late, there have been reports of 65 ships being stuck off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California; these ports are responsible for 40% of the total cargo containers that enter the country. According to the Vessel Traffic Service for the ports in these areas, the number of ships waiting are in record numbers. Due to all of the ships in waiting, it has the potential to cause several shortages. During a normal period, the total number of container ships stays between zero and one.

“The normal number of container ships at anchor is zero to one. They normally meet the arrival time and go right to the dock,” said Kip Louttit, the executive director for the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

Many people attribute the issue to the labor shortage. “It seems the main cause (and this is a drastic oversimplification) is that there is a cycle of shortages occurring simultaneously. Production in East Asia increased as the pandemic eased, which led to more containers being sent to the U.S. (Long Beach/L.A.); however, due to dock workers getting sick and lengthy quarantine requirements, workers were unable to keep up,” says Kunz. “Ports began prioritizing full containers, leaving the empty containers stacking up at port (which of course, are needed back in Asia) In addition, a truck driver shortage in the U.S. (both COVID and career field issues) is causing delays, which backs up ports, etc and the cycle continues.)”

It was reported that on Sept. 21 there were 153 total ships present at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. According to USA Today, “Of those [ships], 64 were at dock loading or unloading cargo, 60 were at anchor and 29 were adrift off the coast.”

As of Tues., Oct. 19 there are 100 ships waiting to unload on the docks. The backlogs in Los Angeles and Long Beach have caused major shortages as they are responsible for 40% of all shipping containers that enter the United States.

For certain industries, such as the toy making industry, the prices for shipping items like cardboard and plastic have increased by 300%. These increases will soon trickle down to the price of the actual goods, with the price of certain toys expected to double by next year.

“It’s contributed to shortages of children’s toys, timber, new clothes and pet food, while also pushing up consumer prices,” says Daniel Thomas, a writer for the BBC news organization.

“Prices of goods will most likely continue to rise due to rising costs of shipping containers, shipping delays, and strong consumer demand for these scarce products,” says Kunz. “My guess is the inflation will level off by the end of the holiday season, but will stick around at higher than normal percentages for longer.”

Shortages are going both ways. With the vast number of ships stuck waiting to get unloaded in California, it has left many sailors essentially stranded at sea. According to, “Sailors on the anchored container ships have also been stuck in limbo, resulting in an uptick of medical issues, food shortages, violent fights and reports of depression and suicidal thoughts.”

“They do a lot of shopping online” to pass the time according to a ship custodian, Merry-Jo Dickie.

As of Oct. 13 the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports will become 24 hours, seven-days-a-week operations in order to help alleviate the back ups. According to the Biden administration, we are likely to still be facing this issue into 2022. The problem has even required the call for assistance from the National Guard.

“I think this will most likely worsen through the upcoming holiday season and probably continue on into mid-next year,” says Kunz. “Some major issues will need to be addressed for this problem to untangle, specifically trucker shortages and dock workers/ port policies in California.”

Not only has this problem caused severe shortages, it may have also been the cause of an oil spill in Orange County, California. It is believed at the moment that a ship that was waiting may have pierced the pipeline undersea. The oil spill has caused a substantial amount of environmental damage with the Coast Guard’s estimate of between 24,696-131,000 gallons of crude oil spilling from the pipeline.

Ben Shad, a writer for the ABC 27 says, “Retail experts are urging people to start holiday shopping now because there could be shipping delays and shortages.”

Container ship backup in California the latest of reasons for supply chain issues