Raul Alfonso, chief commercial officer with Port Tampa Bay, discusses how the pandemic and surge in consumer buying have motivated international shippers to seek alternative gateways, in order to avoid congestion at major port complexes.
COVID -19 and its resulting impact on the economy have caused a massive change in the lives and purchasing habits of consumers. It has also triggered a surge of buying, which in turn has led to massive congestion at ports and inland terminals handling imported goods. In the event, shippers find themselves struggling with port closures, delays in the processing of their cargoes, and soaring ocean freight rates. At the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, more than 40 ships sit offshore, awaiting berths for unloading thousands of containers. “It’s not a happy situation,” says Alfonso.
There’s no immediate solution to the logjam, but shippers are beginning to explore ways of getting around the congestion. One method is to bring in their goods through smaller ports, but that solution will require carriers to deviate from their heavy reliance on megaships that can carry upwards of 10,000 forty-foot containers, but can only call a handful of ports because of their size and draft.
Alfonso believes carriers are open to the idea of returning some smaller ships to service (at least those that weren’t scrapped in the stampede to build ever-larger vessels). Major retailers have indicated their interest in shifting to smaller ports that are less crowded, and closer to retailers’ regional distribution centers. The trick is to take advantage of that alternative without causing similar backups at smaller ports. “Can ocean carriers find vessels that can serve this market,” asks Alfonso. “Let’s hope so.”
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