Head of Busiest U.S. Port Urges Companies to Pick Up Their Cargo More Quickly to Ease Covid Congestion

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters
  • "The container dwell time is much higher than it was pre-pandemic," Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka told CNBC on Tuesday.
  • He called on importers to pick up their cargo "as quickly as they can."

The head of the Port of Los Angeles on Tuesday urged companies to pick up their shipments in a more expedited manner to help ease congestion.

"The container dwell time is much higher than it was pre-pandemic," Executive Director Gene Seroka said on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street," referring to the length of time a container spends at the port.

"We're asking our importers to pick up the cargo as quickly as they can, devan the products and return those containers back to the port," added Seroka, who has led the busiest container port in North America since 2014.

Volumes at the Port of Los Angeles have risen during the coronavirus pandemic after an initial slowdown; in February, it saw its seventh straight month of year-over-year increases in the number of twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, it processed.

"The time it takes for the importer to pick up their cargo at the port is now over four days, but it's off its high of five days sitting under dwell," Seroka said, adding there's been progress in other metrics, too.

"Truck turn times — the amount of time that it takes a trucker to move in and out of the port to drop off and pick up containers — has decreased to 77 minutes from 88 back in December. So we're starting to see some of the trending in the right direction," he said.

However, Seroka said he would like to see the improvements accelerate because it won't be long before traditionally higher volume periods roll around.

"Before we know it, August will be upon us and we'll start to see back-to-school goods, other sale items and then the year-end holidays, the all-important season for retailers," Seroka said.

Asked by CNBC's Carl Quintanilla whether there was something policymakers could do to help ease the burden on ports, Seroka pointed to the importance of workers being vaccinated to protect against Covid.

"There are more than 100,000 folks that come to work here at the port complex every day. We've made significant strides with our dock workers and longshore members, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us with respect to truck drivers, warehouse workers and others," Seroka said.

"Second ... we've got to pick up the cargo faster. We can then increase fluidity much more quickly. Our tarmacs are about 90% full and, in our industry, 80% is considered full capacity," he said.

Questions about the global supply chain were raised in recent days after one of the world's largest container ships blocked the Suez Canal. While traffic resumed Monday on the vital waterway, some experts have warned the impact of the multiday blockage will be felt in the months ahead.

Seroka did not seem particularly concerned about the consequences for the Port of Los Angeles in Southern California.

"You'll see some bunching of cargo vessels as they arrive at East Coast and European ports of call. You may even see some of the liner companies adjust their schedules to miss port calls and get their ships back on schedule," he said. "For the West Coast, we continue to see a strong outlook of import shipments through the middle of the summer."

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