Port problems slow flow of goods before holidays; container ships idle off Los Angeles

Economic Indicators Associated Press

The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are facing their biggest crisis in a decade as container ships idle offshore because cargo can't be moved off the docks fast enough.

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The bottleneck blamed on a surge of imports, shortage of truck trailers, and bigger ships hauling more cargo has created a seven- to 10-day delay for retailers anxious to stock shelves for the holiday season.

"This is really a perfect storm," Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/1FNkssF ) in a story Saturday.

Retailers are rerouting goods to other ports, and some shoe and clothing companies have begun transporting products by air, said Nate Herman, vice president of international trade at the American Apparel & Footwear Assn.

"The delays are increasing, they are not getting better," he said.

The problem is blamed on a variety of factors:

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— Imports increased more than 10 percent last month at both ports compared to a year ago.

— A shortage of truck trailers or truck drivers has left cargo stuck on the docks.

— Terminals built when ships were a third the size of today's cargo behemoths can't unload the ships fast enough.

Other ports are experiencing some of the same problems, but the situation is worse in Southern California at the nation's busiest port complex, which handles 40 percent of U.S. imports. There were seven ships anchored offshore on Friday.

Port officials said the current delays are the worst since 2004 when a new system was created to get truckers to haul loads at night.

The current crunch is expected to ease at the end of the month as peak shipping season tapers off.

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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com