8 graphics that highlight just how bad the record backlog of container ships in Southern California really is

Over the past month, multiple records have been broken at Southern California ports due to backlogs.
These delays have led to price increases and shortages that threaten Black Friday shopping.

The impact of the backlog is highlighted by Flexport graphics and the Marine Exchange of Southern California graphics

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The US could be facing serious consequences from a near record cargo ship backlog in Southern California.

A buildup of cargo ships from China carrying important exports, such as electronics and furniture, could lead to price increases and shortages in the US before the holiday season. According to data from Los Angeles Port, the cargo ships take nearly 10 days to dock or unload.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California reported that Long Beach and Los Angeles had more than 150 ships in port on Wednesday. The ports used to handle 60-70 ships simultaneously before the pandemic. These numbers have nearly doubled in recent years.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California

The ports were crowded with 62 cargo vessels waiting at anchor, or in drift areas, for a spot that would allow them to unload. This transformed the port into a highly organized parking lot for containers, which can weigh more than 200,000 tonnes and are valued at over $100 millions.

According to Insider, Kip Louttit (executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California), the ports had typically one or zero ships waiting to dock before the pandemic.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California

A screenshot taken Wednesday afternoon by the Marine Exchange of Southern California shows the meticulous planning behind where each ship will dock and where cargo ships will be set up at anchor or drift.

Different ships are indicated by the triangles. The screen's rectangles and circles show anchorages, and the drift areas. While the purple hashes indicate the shipping lanes for outgoing and incoming vessels, the purple hashes are used to identify them.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California

The congestion was caused by a spike in orders, COVID-19 port shut downs, and labor shortages. This has led to a shortage in container ships, which has further exacerbated this problem.


These compounding effects have had a profound impact on all aspects of the supply chain, from the export of inventory from China to ground transportation efforts within the US.

According to Flexport data, the time it takes to ship an item from Asia into its final destination has more then doubled.


Even though transportation times are getting longer, the demand for goods and services continues to exceed available resources. The panic-buying frenzy and work-from-home boom were a key factor in the rise of the pandemic. This was at a time when COVID-19 shut down ports. As the holiday shopping season approaches, backlogs are increasing again.


Due to increased demand for products, and consequently the demand for space on cargo ships at ports, delays have made space on cargo ships and at ports more valuable.

Insider was informed by Judah Levine (head of Freightos' research) last week that the cost to transport a 40-foot container from the US to Asia rose 500% compared with the same time last year, and now costs $20,586.


According to Flexport data, the Port of Los Angeles's shipbuilding is not expected to slow down in the next few weeks. Flexport also has data on container ships that are due to arrive at the port. The supply chain crisis is expected to continue into 2023, according to executives.


Are you a shipping professional? Contact the reporter via a non-work email to gkay@insider.com