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Will Long Beach’s sunny spring be followed by stormy summer?

The Port of Long Beach reported its busiest March ever and “the most active quarter on record as long-dwelling cargo continued to move out of marine terminals.”

The port moved 864,156 twenty-foot equivalent units last month, up 2.7% from the previous record set in March 2021. Imports increased 4.7% year-over-year to 427,280 TEUs, while exports declined 18.3% to 114,185 TEUs. Empty containers “jumped” 10% to 321,691 TEUs, the port said in Thursday’s announcement. 

The Port of Long Beach said March typically is a slower month, but this year was exceptionally busy amid efforts to clear cargo from the docks and reduce the number of vessels waiting to berth. The number of ships waiting in San Pedro Bay to berth at either Los Angeles or Long Beach steadily declined from mid-February to the end of March, according to data from Marine Exchange of Southern California. 

However — and it’s a big however — the ports could be cleaning up in preparation for a whole lot more company. American Shipper’s Eric Kulisch reported Friday that the breather from West Coast port congestion likely will be followed by a tsunami of deferred cargo once COVID-related lockdowns in China are lifted.

“The cargo volume will far exceed the handling capability of the ports, with containers jamming up terminals faster than they can be transferred to inland transport and pushing vessels into long queues at sea,” Kulisch wrote. 

During the first quarter of 2022, the Port of Long Beach handled 2.46 million TEUs, a 3.6% increase from Q1 2021. It was the port’s best quarter ever, breaking a record set in the fourth quarter of 2020 by about 55,000 TEUs.

“Imports are on the rise as we continue to clear the line of ships waiting to enter our port and move containers off the docks,” said Mario Cordero, Port of Long Beach executive director. “Collaborating with our industry stakeholders has led to notable improvements across the supply chain.”

The neighboring Port of LA reported earlier this week that it also had its busiest March and best-ever first quarter. 

The San Pedro Bay ports have numerous times delayed the launch of a container dwell fee to charge ocean carriers for boxes that remained on the docks too long. The two ports said they have seen a 49% decline in aging cargo on the docks since the fee was threatened in late October. They issued a joint statement Friday that the fee implementation would be put off yet again, this time until April 22.

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