Photo courtesy Port of Long Beach

Port of Long Beach Sets Annual Cargo Record in 2021

Mike Schuler
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January 19, 2022

Port of Long Beach reported its busiest year ever in 2021 on increased consumer spending, but congestion weighs as December volumes fall for a fourth consecutive month.

As expected, the Port of Long Beach set a new record by moving over 9.3 million TEU in 2021 amid the “historic, pandemic-induced import surge” that has continued since second half of 2020, the port said Monday.

The Port of Long Beach ended 2021 with 9,384,368 TEUs processed, a 15.7% increase from the previous record of more than 8.11 million TEUs moved in 2020.

Annual imports jumped 14.6% to 4,581,846 TEUs, while exports declined 2.6% to 1,437,916 TEUs compared to 2020. Empty containers moving through the port were up a whopping 27.5% to 3,364,606 TEUs.

The Port of Long Beach said 2021 saw 980 container vessel calls, down from 1,042 a year earlier. The decrease was attributed to the elimination of “dual calls” for some shipping services that moved up and down the West Coast, the port said.

The significant increase in cargo was driven by evolving consumer spending habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, as demand for vacations, dining out and entertainment declined, pivoting instead to home office supplies, furniture and exercise equipment, the port said in its announcement.

“This incredible milestone was achieved by the skilled workers who keep goods moving through the supply chain as we continue to seek solutions to improve efficiency, attract business and build for the future,” said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero. “I look forward to enhancing productivity in 2022 by advancing our move toward 24-7 terminal operations, deploying data-sharing technologies for our industry partners, and continuing our infrastructure improvements.”

The Port of Long Beach is the second-busiest container port in the country behind the Port of Los Angeles, its neighbor at the San Pedro Bay Port Complex. Combined, the two ports have moved more than 20 million TEUs in 2021, although the Port of Los Angeles has not yet finalized its December volumes.

But both ports have been hit with severe congestion that has weighed heavily on throughput in recent months.

The Port of Long Beach said December volumes came in at 754,314 TEUs, down 7.5% from December 2020, marking the fourth consecutive month of year-over-year declines. December imports declined 11.7% to 358,687 TEUs, while exports dropped 13.9% to 113,918 TEUs, and empty containers climbed 1.5% to 281,709 TEUs.

The speed up cargo movements, Long Beach has collaborated with stakeholders at the local, state and federal levels on working to expand hours of operation, create temporary staging areas for full containers, and encouraging truck drivers to drop off export containers when picking up an import.

Along with the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach also introduced the “Container Dwell Fee” that would charge ocean carriers for cargo containers that remain too long on the docks. Although consideration of the fee has been postponed since the start of the program, the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports have reported seeing a combined decline of 55% in aging cargo on the docks.

The strong economic momentum experienced through 2021 hit another speed bump by year’s end due to the rampant spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“The ongoing collaboration with our labor force and industry partners lifted us to this extraordinary record during a challenging time,” said Steven Neal, President of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners. “We anticipate further collaboration in 2022 as we work toward developing immediate and long-term solutions that will alleviate congestion at our Port complex.”

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