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Record volumes push US container ports up in global rankings: Alphaliner

Highlights

Los Angeles/Long Beach beats Hong Kong to 9th busiest port in H1 2021

Top 20 ports see 13% volume growth, but freight rates surge by 346%

Port congestion keeps ships at anchor across major US ports

The busiest US container ports are moving up the global rankings amid record import volumes, but the deluge of cargoes continues to exceed capacity with growing ship queues on both the East and West Coasts.

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The Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex jumped ahead of Hong Kong to ninth place in the global container port rankings, posting a combined volume of 10.18 million twenty-foot equivalent units in the first half of 2021, shipping intelligence provider Alphaliner said on Sept. 22.

The Port of New York and New Jersey, busiest on the East Coast of North America, moved ahead of Germany's Hamburg and Thailand's Laem Chabang to eighteenth place in the world with 4.4 million TEUs in the January-June period.

Shanghai maintained its top position in the global rankings, handling 22.95 million TEUs in the first half of 2021, while Singapore remained in second place with 18.73 million TEUs. They were followed by four Chinese ports: Ningbo-Zhoushan, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Qingdao.

Throughput at Long Angeles/Long Beach in January-June 2021 was up 41% from the same period in 2020 and up 24% from the first half of 2019. But overall, the top 20 busiest ports in the world only increased their volumes by an average of 13% year-on-year in January-June 2021 compared to the same period in 2020.

The Platts Container Index, a weighted average of Platts' key global routes, averaged $4,886/FEU for the first half of 2021, an increase of 346% from the year-ago period. The much greater increase in container freight than volumes indicates that the current boom is being driven by disruption and capacity shortages, Alphaliner said in its weekly newsletter.

"Although as expected all top 20 ports increased their activity compared to the first half of 2020, four are now handling less cargo than before the outbreak of COVID," Alphaliner said. "Volumes for Hong Kong, Kaohsiung, Dubai, and Hamburg were respectively down -3.6%, -4.9% -3.6% and -6.7% on the same period in 2019."

North American port congestion continues to escalate near the midpoint of the August-November peak shipping season, further contributing to the equipment imbalance between importing and exporting countries.

There were 63 container ships waiting to berth at Los Angeles/Long Beach on Sept. 22, including 41 at anchor near the coast and 22 further out in the drifting zone, according to Platts cFlow trade-flow analytics software. The length of the queue topped 70 container ships earlier this week, prompting the ports to announce extended gate hours at night and on weekends to relieve some of the congestion.

Other North American ports with far more limited capacity were also having to keep ships waiting at anchor. On Sept. 22, there 23 ships waiting in a queue at Savannah, eight ships each anchored near Seattle-Tacoma and Houston, and five waiting to enter the Port of New York and New Jersey.