container cargo ships in the ocean, Hongkong, China

Why Are There So Many Container Ships in the Pacific Ocean?

If you journey to San Francisco at the moment and you cross the Golden Gate Bridge you will notice something unexpected out there in the Pacific Ocean – a very strange number of container ships that seem parked there. Why are they there, why do they remain there, and why are they not going anywhere?

The answer behind this ‘blockade’ is complicated, but the source is not a surprising one – the coronavirus. Due to the upsurge in COVID cases in China in 2020, production factories in that country were forced to go short-staffed, or to close down altogether.

Factories in China are Working to Catch up with Production Lost in 2020

Now that the worse of COVID seems to be over (in China, anyhow) those factories are in full production and are working hard to make up for the shortfalls they suffered in 2020. Their goods are being sent to the US, and in California that means to the Port of Oakland. At the moment, there are just too many container ships for the port to cope with, causing intense backlogs that can take weeks to clear. Additional anti-contamination procedures at docking ports are adding to the complications too.

It is estimated that the volumes of imports available in the US is up by over a quarter when compared to the same period in 2020, and ports are struggling to cope with the deluge.

“What’s happening globally is this pandemic has made people spend more time at home, so what people are doing at home is they’re shopping like crazy,” said Robert Bernardo, a spokesman for the Port of Oakland. “There’s a lot of consumer products being purchased, household goods, computers. Factories in Asia are shipping goods in record numbers to replenish American store shelves and assembly lines. Retailers and manufacturers and e-commerce distributors are all driving the surge.”

The Bottleneck Effect of Increased Production is Being Felt All Down the West Coast

Container ships do not simply come from China and head straight to Oakland. Most of them visit Long Beach first, and then head to Oakland, and then Seattle before returning home. This creates further bottlenecks, leaving the ships ‘parked’ as they patiently await their turn to unload.

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