West Seattle Blog… | About these anchored ships, and what else is happening because the supply chain is harassed
(August BMS photo: Containers stored at T-5)
You’ve probably heard a lot about bottlenecks in the supply chain causing a backlog of ships waiting to enter ports.
This afternoon, for example, Los Angeles / Long Beach had 77 freighters in line.
Seattle’s backlog isn’t that bad, but it’s still a logistical challenge, according to port and marine officials who led a press conference we attended online this afternoon.
The most visible effects of the backlog, seen from West Seattle, are the ships anchored off Manchester and at Elliott Bay. But there are other anchorages in Puget Sound, and other options for ships while they wait, briefers explained – Captain Patrick hilbert of US Coast Guard, who is the Puget Sound sector commander; Captain Mike moore of Pacific Merchant Marine Association; and Presidents of the Port Commission Fred Felleman from Seattle and Dick marzano from Tacoma.
Whereas previously they worked on the logistics of berthing a ship a few days before its arrival, they now do it three to four weeks in advance. The first talks could lead a ship to stay anchored in China for a while, for example, before crossing the Pacific. Or the captain of a ship may choose to make the crossing at low speed. Or they could wait a few hundred miles off the coast of Washington – or if it’s safer than the high seas, a ship could even navigate “race tracks” (loops) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (with courtesy of Canada).
Felleman said that the Alliance of North West Seaports – the joint Seattle and Tacoma port authority which manages the berths at both ports – has offered its otherwise inactive services Terminal 46 downtown as a place to wait for ships, although so far no one has accepted the offer, despite low-cost availability. (Moore said it would probably be the most attractive to ships in need of restocking, and he would remind its members – shipping companies and terminal operators – that it’s available.)
The problem, Felleman explained, is not a high volume of cargo; he said they were at about the same level as before the pandemic. The problem is, the timing is shifted throughout the system, disrupting a series of tightly interwoven actions that must occur to keep everything working. With everything out of sync, containers are piling up on the docks because truck drivers don’t show up to pick them up, which can mean a ship isn’t loaded or unloaded. Terminal 18 on Harbor Island, for example, at one point there were 7,000 containers, empty and full, waiting to be picked up. As we have already shown you, under construction Terminal 5 here in West Seattle is used as a temporary storage location for overflow containers, just like the T-46.
Puget Sound only had three ships at anchor today, they said. Could this area manage part of this massive backup elsewhere? we asked. Short answer, no, that would only shift the problem.