West Coast ports work to clear biggest backlog since 2004

The two busiest U.S. seaports are facing their largest backlog of ships in more than a decade, even with hundreds of dock employees returning to work over the weekend after their union reached a tentative labor contract.

Thirty-five ships were queued up Monday morning outside the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together handle almost 40 percent of U.S. imports, in the biggest backup since railroad tie-ups choked off the flow of cargo in 2004, said Kip Louttit, who heads the Maritime Exchange of Southern California. That’s up from as few as four in December.

“Ships are still arriving, and they need to get the whole machine going again,” said Louttit, whose nonprofit group provides information on ship traffic and helps guide vessels to berths. “It’s not automatic that congestion is going down just because they have an agreement.”

It will take six to eight weeks for West Coast ports to recover from the cargo backlog, according to the Port of Oakland and the National Retail Federation, which represents stores that resorted to stockpiling seasonal merchandise in warehouses and shifting to East and Gulf coast ports.



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