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Exclusive: Congested Port of LA receiving empty containers from Gulf, Southeast

Carriers have requested up to 2,000 empties, which may impact ‘delivery cadence’

The Port of Los Angeles is about to receive more empty containers. (Photo by Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

American Shipper is reporting another wrinkle facing the Port of Los Angeles as it tries to clear the massive congestion. Thousands of additional empty containers are en route to the Port of Los Angeles from East Coast and Gulf Coast ports.  

Over the last couple of weeks, up to 2,000 empty containers originating from the ports of Charleston, South Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; New Orleans and Houston were headed to the Port of Los Angeles to be loaded onto vessels. These containers were requested by the carriers and will create more burden for the port terminals to receive local trucks trying to unload their own empty containers.

“The biggest hurdle we see in the market is the inability to return empty containers,” said Weston LaBar, head of strategy at Cargomatic. “This congests our carrier and customer yards and adds to the chassis shortage. Ultimately this can delay the ability to pick up imports due to the shortage in chassis availability and yard space. 

“We have customers whose warehouses can receive goods; however, the lack of chassis and space in their yards due to the stranded empties impacts the ability to keep a delivery cadence.”

The phenomenon of containers traveling from other ports to Los Angeles is not a new one. Local truckers tell American Shipper the port is known to be the “empty container dumping ground in the country.”

“Even containers from Port Rupert [in British Columbia, Canada] have made their way down to Los Angeles via rail,” said one trucker who requested anonymity. “This is making a bad situation worse. There is a finite number of slots to return empties. How can we pick up empties if we can’t unload our chassis?”

The reason for the carriers moving containers from the East Coast either by truck or rail to the West Coast is time. The LA trade route to China is faster than the maritime routes from the East Coast and Gulf Coast ports.

Despite the claims of 24/7 ports by the Biden administration, the Port of Los Angeles is still in talks with the various port stakeholders to seek participation. In an effort to expand service, the port is opening gates at 7 a.m. PT and on weekends so truck drivers can return empty containers and pick up loaded boxes. 

But because of the lack of warehouses open during the flex time and on weekends, coupled with the container restrictions that are imposed by the terminals at the order of the ocean carriers, appointments are being left unused.

According to the Port of Los Angeles, 50% of weekend appointments have been left open and 30% of weekday appointments remain unused.

The Harbor Trucking Association says the surge of extra containers will only add to the already stressed system.

“We are trying to free up chassis, but we can’t because we are competing with these additional empties contracted by the ocean carriers,” said Matt Schrap, Harbor Trucking Association CEO. “This is not helpful for the supply chain.”

The acceptance of empty containers at the Port of Los Angeles is on a first-come, first-served basis. That means if the terminal hits its empty container allotment at noon and a trucker arrives at 12:05 p.m., he or she will be turned away with a full chassis and cannot pick up a loaded container.

This photo given to American Shipper by port sources illustrates the unused truck appointments. The photo was taken from the APM Terminal at 7:38 a.m. PT at the Port of Los Angeles last Wednesday. It was a flex gate and opened at 7 a.m. The first appointment was a Walmart tuck at 9:45 a.m.     

“We’ve been more successful than the market at threading this needle for our customers,” said LaBar. “But an increase in empties coming from the East Coast, Gulf Coast and even Canadian ports should be a cause for concern for everyone servicing and using the Southern California ports.” 

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  1. Angela

    How can we get some of these empty shipping containers? I’m sure there are plenty more people looking for them, especially since the prices have drastically gone up for empty shipping containers.

  2. Sandra

    It’s horrible at the ports I have empties on the street. All my chassis are on those empties. We the trucker community need to speak up.

  3. Lori Wheeler

    This is crazy! I am an importer that can’t get my containers picked up from the port and delivered because there are no chassis available due to empties sitting on the chassis. Somebody needs to figure this out and fix it! The SSLs need to reposition their empties and get them out and off the truckers chassis so that we can have some chance of getting back to normal.


    Why can’t the shipping in Asia load their container on smaller Panama Canal ships and to the Gulf and East Coast ports? Obviously, it will take more but ships will not have to languish in the harbor for days/weeks paying unseemly daily lease fees. This would allow more equitably distributed cargo and the LA/Long Beach port can empty and get back on its stab;e footing. These other ports have trucks, chassis, and containers.

  5. Rony Ramos

    News media are missing the point, they should be taking to trucking companies on what’s going on at the ports and why loads can’t be pick up and empty containers can’t be return to terminals, LA & LB ports are understaffed and under equipped for the the volume of imports and exports..

  6. Harry


  7. James P.

    Why the hell do they need empties brought from other ports? There must be 20000 sitting in lots and on city streets all over southern California. Genius.

    1. Sue Christiansen

      We Americans are smarter than most of you sitting back & wonder what now !!!!!GET UP & GO TO WORK ! Figure it out , ask questions, seek advise & & you wILL figure it out!

Comments are closed.

Lori Ann LaRocco

Lori Ann LaRocco is senior editor of guests for CNBC business news. She coordinates high profile interviews and special multi-million dollar on-location productions for all shows on the network. Her specialty is in politics, working with titans of industry. LaRocco is the author of: “Trade War: Containers Don’t Lie, Navigating the Bluster” (Marine Money Inc., 2019) “Dynasties of the Sea: The Untold Stories of the Postwar Shipping Pioneers” (Marine Money Inc., 2018), “Opportunity Knocking” (Agate Publishing, 2014), “Dynasties of the Sea: The Ships and Entrepreneurs Who Ushered in the Era of Free Trade” (Marine Money, 2012), and “Thriving in the New Economy: Lessons from Today’s Top Business Minds” (Wiley, 2010).