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Supply bottlenecks leave ships stranded, US businesses without wares

BOTTLENECKS arising from the Covid crisis has American businesses awaiting goods from Asia - while off the California coast, dozens of ships ride at anchor awaiting berths, reports The Associated Press

23 March 2021 - 19:00
BOTTLENECKS arising from the Covid crisis has American businesses awaiting goods from Asia - while off the California coast, dozens of ships ride at anchor awaiting berths, reports The Associated Press.

Covid has wreaked havoc since early 2020, when it forced the closure of factories throughout China. The seeds of the current problems were sown last March, when Americans stayed home and dramatically changed their buying habits, said the AP report.



Instead of clothes, they bought electronics, fitness equipment and home improvement products. US companies responded by flooding reopened Asian factories with orders, leading to a chain reaction of congestion and snags at ports and freight hubs across the country as the goods began arriving.



Main Street businesses are now forced to wait months instead of the usual weeks for a delivery from China, and no one knows when the situation will be resolved. Owners do a lot of explaining to customers, order more inventory than usual and lower their expectations for when their shipments will arrive, the report said.



Alejandro Bras used to be able to place an order to factories in China and expect to receive his products in 30 days. Now, with problems throughout the supply chain, 'we're adding an additional two months,' he says. And that two months is 'iffy' - it can take even longer.



Mr Bras' company, Womple Studios, sells monthly subscription boxes with educational crafts and activities for children; many of the products are custom-made, so he can't easily find substitutes.



Ships holding as many as 14,000 containers have sat offshore, some of them for over a week. At times there have been as many as 40 ships waiting. Normally, there's no more than a handful, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California, a service that monitors port traffic and operations.



'With this type of backlog, it will take several weeks to work through that. It doesn't go away. And new ships are sailing to the US even as we speak,' said Shanton Wilcox, a manufacturing adviser with PA Consulting.



But there are choke points on land as well. It can take 8,000 trucks to haul the cargo away from a ship, says Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California.



But when all those trucks hit the road, there aren't enough available when dockers are trying to unload the next ships in port. Freight rail traffic has also been affected.



'When you have more cargo, you have a less efficient cargo moving system,' said Capt Louttit. The pandemic itself is also slowing down the flow of goods, sidelining workers in warehouses at the ports, he says.



Put all the problems together, and when a ship gets into port, it takes five to seven days to unload instead of two to three, says Shruti Gupta, an industrial analyst with the consulting firm RSM.



'That again has consequences on truckers and rail service, because they have to wait until the port clears,' she said.


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