Ports see worst congestion since 2004 because of work stoppage

In this Jan. 14, 2015, photo, shipping containers are stacked up waiting for truck transport at the Port of Los Angeles. Damian Dovarganes/AP

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach reopened Monday after ship loading and unloading was suspended this weekend because of a long-running labor dispute, which caused the worst delays the ports have seen in more than a decade.

The stoppage led to a queue of 31 ships, according to Kip Louttit, Executive Director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, the agency that manages ship traffic.

“It’s quite unusual,” said Louttit.

There was a 10-day lockout at the ports in 2002, and an eight-day strike by port clerks in 2012, but even during those standoffs, the queue never exceeded 30 vessels.

The last time that happened was in 2004, because of staffing shortages at the Union Pacific Railroad. Some 65 ships were anchored, "backed up halfway down to San Diego, like 50 miles down the coast," Art Wong, spokesperson for the Port of Long Beach, told JOC.com, a container shipping and international supply chain industry website.

By Monday afternoon, the situation had improved some: 24 vessels were waiting to dock.

Louttit says all those ships waiting at sea means cargo is not getting where it needs to be.

“We had an automaker from the Midwest stop by, trying to get an idea of what the flow would be, because their plants are running out of parts to make cars,” he said.

Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, who supports the dockworkers union, called on both sides to reach an agreement quickly. To underscore the delays the dispute is having, he travelled a mile and a half out to sea Monday morning to count the number of anchored ships for himself. He posted a video of his trip on Youtube: