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I WAS ADMIRING a southern California sunset—and stopped counting when I reached 35 giant container ships in view. A recent White House statement, November 10, 2021, said that fully 40 percent of containerized imports enter the U.S. through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Port congestion has been a significant challenge, only partially met by a shift toward 24/7 operation and optimized turnaround of the containers once emptied. Yet, it turns out the 35 container ships I counted were only part of the shipping fleet queued up waiting for dock space.
CBS8 San Diego, November 15, 2021, reported, “The backup of cargo ships heading toward Long Beach and Los Angeles is so bad, you can now see vessels waiting off the coast of San Diego…. While some are going to San Diego, the majority are headed towards Long Beach and Los Angeles where, as of Sunday night, nearly 90 were waiting to get in.”
This got me thinking about the sailors’ plight of traveling 5700 miles across the Pacific, only to get caught in a traffic jam several miles from port. And also, just how long does a container ship take to get from, say, Shanghai to Los Angeles: days?, weeks?, months?
Wouldn’t you know, one of my daily news sources, The New York Times DealBook Newsletter, December 1, 2021, has an answer.
DealBook says “Shipping times, which had been falling since March, shot up in early July, as Delta was causing a surge in cases, according to a shipping index that the logistics company Flexport Research is releasing for the first time today.”
“As of last week,” DealBook continues, “it took an average of 105 days to ship goods to the U.S. from China, up from 84 in early July and 50 prepandemic. ‘Every time you interrupt the flow,’ said Phil Levy, Flexport’s chief economist, ‘you add to the backup.’ ”
Container Ship Details. According to transportgeography.org, “Most containerships are designed to travel at speeds around 24 knots [27.6 mph].”
Some Figuring. The distance from Shanghai to Los Angeles is around 5700 nautical miles, about 8.6 days at theoretical pedal-to-the-metal (or whatever one calls that ratcheted gizmo with the bells on the ship’s bridge). Internet sources differ on actual transit time between Shanghai and Los Angeles (15 days?, between 20 and 30 days?, 30-40 days?).
I’ll go with the current 105 days described by Flexport Research. For one thing, container ships don’t change speed (or direction, for that matter) with any alacrity. Also, there’s trans-Pacific weather to contend with. And the traffic jam at the port.
A Patient Crew? I imagine the container ship sailor must be a patient sort of fellow, waiting there off the coast when he’d rather be whooping it up in some San Pedro speakeasy. Or, given that my knowledge comes from Dashiell Hammett, do I have that all wrong? ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021