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Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach each set new volume records in 2021

Calendar year 2021 volumes, for the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) and the Port of Long Beach (POLB), whom collectively account for around 40% in inbound United States imports, set new annual records, according to data recently issued by the ports.

Total 2021 POLA volume—at 10,677,609 TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units)—increased 1,464,213 TEU, or 15.89%, annually, topping 2020 by 13%, and setting a new annual record, too, topping the previous high set in 2018.

“In 2021, we learned how much cargo we could move through our port under extraordinary circumstances,” said POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka in his address at the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association’s seventh annual “State of the Port” event last week. “And during our fiscal year, which ended June 30, we processed even more cargo…with more than 10.8 million TEU from July 2020 to June 2021 and another 5 million TEU from July until the end of the year. That is 18 consecutive months of record cargo volume, including last May, which is the first month we ever surpassed 1 million TEU. End-to-end, those containers would stretch nearly three times around the world.”

Seroka also said that decades of development provided the berth space, backland and rail infrastructure to process more cargo than ever before. And he added that in 2021, POLA’s marine terminal operators and workforce gave POLA the ability to move that cargo—from the ships to railcars or out the gates on trucks.

For the month of December, POLA volume came in at 786,588 TEU, for a 10.53% annual decrease. Imports—at 385,250 TEU—fell 16.41%, and exports—at 70,871 TEU—were off 41.07%. Empty containers—at 330,466 TEU—increased 10.87%.

POLB data: The Port of Long Beach reported that calendar year 2021 volume—at 9,384,368 TEU—was up 15.7% annually, setting a new annual record, topping the previous record of more than 8.11 million TEU set in 2020.

POLB said 2021 imports headed up 14.6%, to 4,581,846 TEU, and exports were down 2.6%, to 1,437,916 TEU. Empty containers increased 27.5%, to 3,364,606 TEU.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

POLB officials attributed 2021’s volume gains to evolving consumer spending habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for vacations, dining out and entertainment declined due to health precautions and pivoted toward home office supplies, furniture and exercise equipment.

And they added that the Port of Long Beach had 980 container vessel calls in 2021, down from 1,042 in 2020, due to the elimination of “dual calls” for some shipping services that moved up and down the West Coast.

Total December POLA volume—at 754,314 TEU—was off 7.5%. Imports—at 358,687—were down 11.7%, and exports—at 113,918 TEU—fell 13.9%. Empty containers—at 281,709 TEU—saw a 1.5% gain.

Dr. Noel Hacegaba, POLA Deputy Executive Director and COO, recently told LM, that when combining POLA and POLB (collectively the largest gateway in the U.S.) calendar year 2021 volumes, topped 20 million TEU, a level that has never been reached before.  

“It just shows how heavy the volumes have been and is a direct result of the pandemic, as we have spent more time in our homes and shifted away from buying services to buying goods,” he said. “This induced a lot of consumption, in the form of online shopping and e-commerce. Home improvement goods [sales] were through the roof. Those were the drivers for the historic demand that we have seen. On the other hand, we also saw the impacts to capacity. Every single segment of the supply chain, from the ports to the warehouses to the motor carriers to the railroads has felt the impact of capacity…either with workers calling in sick or deciding top change careers or jobs. A combination of this historic volume with the tightening of capacity is really at the root of a lot of these disruptions we have been seeing.”

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About the Author

Jeff Berman's avatar
Jeff Berman
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review and is a contributor to Robotics 24/7. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis.
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