The shipping backlog is expected to continue for months

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – These are unprecedented times for the shipping industry.

More than 25 freighters continue to be anchored off the coast of Charleston awaiting a turn to unload. South Carolina Ports Authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said the number of inbound containers set a new record in February.

This is the 12th consecutive new monthly record.

“As of this morning, we have around 23,000 import containers in the terminals – of which around 8,000 are dwell times of 15 days or more. It’s unheard of,” Newsome said. “We used to think that the dwell times were three and a half days to four days.”

Charleston’s three ports moved 230,420 containers in February, up 26% year-over-year. Newsome says that traditionally there have always been enough ports, ships and trucks to handle all shipping in the country, but that has all changed since the pandemic.

“Every ship that can be chartered to handle containers has been chartered. There isn’t a spare ship in the world,” Newsome said. “Vessels that were charted for $5,000 per day are chartered for $150,000 per day.”

Newsome says part of the backlog is caused by labor disputes along the west coast that have forced some ships to choose other ports. He says this is the same backlog seen in Savannah last summer and he says it will clear up as ships move to less busy areas.

“I think we as a country consumed record amounts of goods during the pandemic. We couldn’t buy services, so we bought goods,” Newsome said. “This has led to the record volumes we are seeing in all forms. I think most experts would tell you that at some point we will return to more normal consumption levels.

Moving containers off port property is an equally difficult undertaking with long lines of truckers waiting each day to pick up the containers. Newsome says they need more truckers to help clear the backlog.

The South Carolina Trucking Association agrees it needs a lot more truckers.

Over the next few years, Rick Todd, president and CEO of the SCTA, says the country will need about 200,000 new truckers to fill the shortage and replace retiring truckers. However, he says there is no point in having more truckers if the ports cannot load them in a timely manner.

“They need to be able to rely on volume, speed and good pay so they can make a profit and just save that capital expense and keep the drivers happy,” Todd said. “We have limited hours available to us at the port. in terms of its operations. Customs is nine to five. . . We’re going to have to evolve, I think over time, to a much longer working day to allow everyone to be as efficient as possible.

The Port Authority is working to make the terminals more efficient.

Newsome says they have extended port hours on Sunday, are embarking on a rail project that will be able to quickly move containers offsite and they are working on updating their critical chassis pool to moving containers.

These are long-term projects. Newsome says the backlog isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“I had thought we would be caught up by the end of April, I don’t see that happening now,” Newsome said.

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