Transportation Secretary Buttigieg joins Port of LA chief to applaud cargo progress, vow more

Modest signs of progress at the Port of Los Angeles were touched on at a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Nov.

16, by port Executive Director Gene Seroka who was joined by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. But there are no illusions that it will be a fast turnaround to what is a dysfunctional and global supply chain.

“I’ve been impressed by the creativity” that’s gone into on-the-ground efforts to begin the process, said Buttigieg speaking from Washington, D.C., including using sweeper ships to remove empties and putting penalty fees in place for cargo that remains too long on the docks. But, he added, “we’re talking about a global, interconnected supply chain that is run mostly by the private sector. … I heard someone say it’s not a silver bullet (answer), it’s more like silver buckshot.”

Still, there has been movement in recent weeks. Old cargo is beginning to move out in advance of proposed fines being levied, freeing up docks needed to unload ships, Seroka said. Six sweeper ships have taken away thousands of empty containers in recent weeks, beyond the normal numbers, with two more currently on the way, he added said.

The port typically ships 350,000 empty containers back to Asia each month. Night hours are being used, in part, to pull empties being stored on off-port sites back to load on ships taking them back to Asia for refilling.

Some 25% of cargo taking up dock space has been moved out in the past several weeks, Seroka said, taking the total number of containers on the port tarmac from about 95,000 to 71,000. Longer-dwelling cargo has decreased by 29% through voluntary actions, he said, prompting a second weeklong delay by the port in the deadline to begin charging fines to ocean carriers.

“That gives us a little more room on the terminal tarmacs,” Seroka said. And that allows longshore workers to unload waiting ships at a faster pace. Asked about the move to 24/7, Seroka said the port is already working about 19 hours a day with new flex hours between day and night shifts.

But a workable 24/7 plan, Seroka said, requires buy-in from all sectors and that’s not coming quickly.

“We’ve had very few takers to date,” he said, noting that warehouse workers tend not to work night shifts, in one example.

With incoming October cargo totals again expected to be just short of a monthly record, the challenge shows no sign of slowing down.

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