The Port of Long Beach’s busiest year ever is in the books, with more than 8.1 million container units moved in 2020.
Two other records were achieved: December, with 815,885 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) moved, was the busiest month ever and Q4 was the busiest quarter in the port’s 110-year history with 2,406,010 TEUs handled.
The port said that despite “economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing trade war with China,” it handled a total of 8,113,315 TEUs in 2020, 6.3% more than in 2019 and beating the record-setting 2018 by 22,292 TEUs.
Imports increased 6.6% year-over-year to 3,998,340 TEUs, while exports were up only 0.2% to 1,475,888 TEUs. The biggest jump came with the number of containers unloaded and then sent back empty to Asia — a 9.9% year-over-year increase to 2,639,088 TEUs. In other words, the Port of Long Beach moved over 1.16 million more empty containers than loaded exports in 2020.
Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero issued a statement Friday in which he thanked the “frontline workers on the docks who kept cargo moving during this unprecedented moment in history, ensuring the safe, secure and timely delivery of vital medical equipmwent and consumer goods. We have all endured incredible hardships with COVID-19, but I am looking forward to 2021 as a time of economic recovery and a renewed focus on our industry partners, infrastructure projects and community stakeholders.”
A huge influx of imports in the fall pushed the port to its record-setting 8.1 million TEUs. The spread of the coronavirus made for a miserable spring, with the Port of Long Beach’s volumes down 17.3% year-over-year in April.
After the first six months of 2020, volume was down 6.9% year-over-year. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles had a combined 104 canceled sailings in the first half of the year, a huge spike from the 41 blanked calls during the same period in 2019.
“It was a different story for the second half of 2020, when preliminary estimates show that the port had 104 unscheduled container ship calls that made up for voyages canceled earlier in the year, more than quadrupling the unscheduled sailings reported during the same period in 2019,” the port said.
The 815,855 TEUs moved in December was a 22.6% hike from the same month in 2019. The total topped the record set in just October by 9,282 TEUs. In December alone, empties jumped 26.3% year-over-year to 263,852 TEUs.
The port processed 2,406,010 TEUs between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, a 23% increase from the fourth quarter of 2019. That beat the record-setting third quarter by 131,740 TEUs.
2020 also made for the Port of Long Beach’s best November on record. The 783,523 TEUs moved was a 30.6% jump from November 2019. Again, the number of empties handled stuck out. The number of empty containers shipped back to Asia for refilling in November leapt to 283,563 TEUs, a 55% year-over-year increase.
Cargo activity did not drop off with the end of the calendar year. West Coast ports remain unusually busy in January. As of midday Wednesday, 32 container ships were at anchor in San Pedro Bay waiting to berth either at the Port of Long Beach or LA.