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Southern California ports rank dead last on global efficiency index

After a year of headlines lamenting a congested supply chain, a report ranking port efficiency made it official: Southern California’s ports were the least efficient in 2021. The backlog of ships awaiting a berth in San Pedro Bay last year topped 100 — a threshold that didn’t consistently abate until Lunar New Year of 2022.

Released Wednesday, the second edition of the Container Port Performance Index, a collaboration between the World Bank and S&P Global Market Intelligence, ranked the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in the last two spots of the 370-port global index.

Rankings were determined by the amount of time vessels spend in port making a cargo exchange. Averages were weighted by call size and vessel size.

“The pandemic highlighted in stark terms the pivotal role port performance plays in the timely supply of goods to countries and their populations,” said Turloch Mooney, associate director of maritime and trade at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “The effects of the pandemic on key global gateways and associated supply chains are very worrying and continue to cause severe supply delays and shortages of goods, leading to higher prices and negatively impacting the financial situation of many companies.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Port took the top spot on the list in 2021, with ports in Oman, Qatar and Abu Dhabi placing in the top five. China had three ports — Shanghai (Yangshan), Ningbo and Guangzhou — place in the top 10. Last year’s top port, Japan’s Yokohama, fell to No. 10.

The performance metrics highlighted large differences in port efficiency, which the report concluded is often tied to infrastructure spending. By comparison, King Abdullah Port moved 97 containers per hour on average compared to just 26 such moves on the West Coast of North America.

“Increasing the use of digital technology and green fuel alternatives are two ways countries can modernize their ports and make maritime supply chains more resilient,” said Martin Humphreys, lead transport economist at the World Bank. “In the Middle East, heavy investments in container port infrastructure and technology are proving to be effective.”

A multitude of factors led to the large queue of ships on the West Coast last year. COVID-induced labor headwinds at the ports, slow chassis turns, a lack of container staging space, slow rail service and containers out of position in the network provided some of the biggest impediments to throughput. But the report found that most of the least efficient ports have common issues.

“Poorly performing ports are characterized by limitations in spatial and operating efficiency, limitations in maritime and landside access, inadequate oversight and poor coordination between the public agencies involved, resulting in a lack of predictability and reliability.” Reliability issues at the ports were cited as having widespread adverse economic impacts on those countries that house them.

“The result far too often is that instead of facilitating trade, the port increases the cost of imports and exports, reduces the competitiveness of its host country and its hinterland, and inhibits economic growth and poverty reduction.”

The Port of Virginia was the highest-ranking port in North America at 23. Miami at 29 and Halifax in Canada at 46 rounded out the continent’s top 50 entrants.

More than 80% of global merchandise is moved on the ocean, with 60% of commercial value being shipped in containers.

In 2020, Los Angeles was ranked No. 337 out of 351. Long Beach was ranked 341.

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