Pandemic linked to Long Beach drop in cargo, rise in canceled calls

The Port of Long Beach said it continued to feel the economic effects of COVID-19 in March with more canceled sailings and a decline in cargo containers shipped through the nation’s second-busiest seaport.

Terminal operators and dockworkers moved 517,663 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last month, a 6.4% decline compared to March 2019. Imports were down 5% to 234,570 TEUs, while exports increased 10.7% to 145,442 TEUs. Empty containers shipped overseas dropped 21% to 137,652 TEUs.

The coronavirus was blamed for 19 canceled sailings to Long Beach during the opening quarter of 2020. That contributed to a 6.9% decline in cargo shipments compared to the first three months of 2019, port officials said.

The port had reported a 17.9% year-over-year drop in imports in February.

“The coronavirus is delivering a shock to the supply chain that continues to ripple across the national economy,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “We’re definitely seeing a reduction in the flow of cargo at San Pedro Bay, but the ports remain open and operating, and we are maintaining business continuity.”

Long Beach and Los Angeles container terminals recently adjusted their second-shift operating hours to provide time to disinfect all handling equipment between shifts.

Long Beach Harbor Commission President Bonnie Lowenthal said the frequency and intensity of cleaning efforts also have increased at port offices and other common areas.

“The health and well-being of our entire workforce, our stakeholders and our community remain a top priority as we balance our duty to keep goods moving through this vital link in the national supply chain,” Lowenthal said.

The port said last week it is working with medical supply companies, ocean carriers, marine terminal operators, dockworkers and truckers to expedite imports of crucial health equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The port said terminal operators are staging the priority containers filled with medical gowns, gloves and other infection-control apparel and personal protective equipment manufactured in Asia for special pickup to rush them to distribution centers in California and beyond.

“It’s encouraging that in these challenging times, when port staff members reached out to our stakeholders about expediting medical supply shipments, they found a great deal of willingness to quickly band together and ensure rapid and early delivery,” Cordero said.

The port’s business development team has been working directly with Cardinal Health, a global, integrated health care services and products company headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, to get these critical products through the port quickly.

Patrick Halloran, director of global trade logistics for Cardinal Health, commended the port, shipping lines, terminal operators, dockworkers and truckers for working together to reduce the time of delivery of the much-needed medical supplies.

“It’s great to see this come together as we all move quickly to prioritize getting products where they are needed in this uncertain time,” said Halloran, who also serves as a member of the American Shipper editorial board.