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Cargo ships are so stuffed that ports are struggling to unload them

A cargo ship stacked high with containers sits in front of a shipyard where every available millimeter is already stacked with boxes.
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Pop quiz! Can you find space in this congested shipping yard to neatly stack the thousands of containers that need to be unloaded from this ship?
  • Nicolás Rivero
By Nicolás Rivero

Tech Reporter

Published Last updated on

Cargo ships are piled higher with containers than they’ve ever been, according to data from analyst firm IHS Markit. And the crowding is worst onboard ships sailing into US west coast ports. At the Port of Long Beach, which has been mired in record backlogs for months, the average ship now brings in 7,000 containers—up 70% from the pre-pandemic average of roughly 4,000 containers.

The glut of containers is overwhelming strained port infrastructure, especially at older ports like Long Beach in Southern California which already faced frequent delays, according to Turloch Mooney, the associate director for maritime and trade analysis at IHS Markit. “Quite a few of those ports have really gone beyond the breaking point now,” he said. “That would be what you’re seeing on the US West Coast.”

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