The congestion at the ports is creating a crisis for the nation’s medical suppliers. The Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) told American Shipper that between 8,000 and 12,000 containers filled with millions of critical medical supplies are delayed.
According to HIDA, these containers on average are overdue 37 days.
“COVID is still with us and it is difficult to predict the course of particular variants and their impact on supplies,” HIDA President and CEO Matthew J. Rowan said. “So the best strategy is for the supply chain to maintain preparedness and for distributors and manufacturers to keep medical supplies moving to providers.”
Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl Bentzel told American Shipper he has received letters and conducted follow-up meetings with representatives of HIDA, Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), and International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) all outlining the need for overseas shipping and imploring for help to have port leaders identify and prioritize medical supply containers for swift pickup.
“While the FMC does not have the legal authority to prioritize cargo, these containers hold essential products for the health, safety and well-being of our nation’s medical frontline workers, as well as patients,” Bentzel said. “Chairman [Daniel] Maffei is aware of this and we at the FMC had several meetings on the problem and are committed to do what we can to help the medical suppliers receive these lifesaving products.
“The Biden administration has also been helping out, and we are in contact with John Porcari [port envoy to the White House Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force] on the project to ensure essential health care products are delivered to U.S. hospitals”
Bentzel said he reached out to Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka and Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero, along with SSA Marine, the second largest container terminal operator in the Americas, to work on ways to prioritize the cargo and expedite its movement inland.
In March 2020, Seroka was tapped by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to be chief logistics officer for the city of Los Angeles and he oversaw the Logistics Victory Los Angeles (LoVLA) response effort that assisted in getting critical personal protective equipment (PPE) and emergency supplies to health care and supply chain workers.
“These port leaders were the first in identifying and moving out containers filled with PPE and other health care and sanitization supplies at the beginning of the pandemic,” Bentzel said. “Both Gene and Mario instantly agreed to help, and they set up teams at the port to move the product. They are in the process of identifying the containers. SSA is in the process of tagging the containers and using peel piles for expedited pickup.”
Seroka told American Shipper, “These supplies are vital now more than ever as the omicron variant spreads across the nation. HIDA has contacted us identifying which containers need to be expedited. We are using our digital system to identify these containers so we can move them out as fast as possible.
“Unfortunately, these boxes are mixed in with the thousands of import containers arriving at the port. The earlier we know when these containers are arriving, the more efficient we can be in pushing these valuable imports out.”
Cordero said, “Since the start of the pandemic, the Port of Long Beach, in partnership with marine terminal operators and longshore labor, has been able to expedite shipments of PPE, medical supplies and medical equipment. Everyone has worked in concert to help these lifesaving shipments get into the hands of hospitals and medical professionals as rapidly as possible. This remains a priority for the entire port community.”
One of the terminals playing a key role in this supply chain mission, according to Bentzel, is SSA Marine Terminals.
Sal Ferrigno, vice president of SSA Marine Terminals, explained that the terminals’ electronic platform is being used to identify the containers.
“In an effort to ensure essential supplies are available for our country, we have prioritized medical supplies at our terminals,” Ferrigno said. “The solution is straightforward with the help of eModal. We are able to identify containers with medical equipment before arrival.
“Once discharged from a vessel, the containers are given a priority appointment where once out gated, they will be taken to their destination. The process is safe, efficient, and timely particularly when you consider the outbreak of the omicron virus and the need for medical supplies.”
According to HIDA transit analysis, the congestion along the East Coast is also hindering logistical efforts for medical suppliers. HIDA told American Shipper that Savannah, Georgia, has the greatest number of delays, followed by New York and New Jersey.
“We have spoken with Sam Ruda of the Port of New York/New Jersey and Griff Lynch of the Port of Savannah and gave them notice that something like this will be coming their way,” Bentzel said. “We are in the early stages with these ports.”
Bentzel has also communicated with the World Shipping Council on this logistical mission.
“I am planning to give a presentation to their membership on our need of their assistance in the expedited movement of this essential cargo,” Bentzel said. “In this insistence, we do not have adequate levels of U.S.-flag vessels under ultimate government control to help, but I am asking support for this cargo to be delivered.
“The success of this initiative needs to involve the World Shipping Council and potentially other U.S. coast ports such as Savannah and New York/New Jersey. Preliminarily, they have been responsive, and hopefully progress on the West Coast can lead to expanded national effort. HIDA says hospitals are in dire need for these products. Every facet in maritime community should work together on this medical logistical mission.”