COVID-19 takes toll on US port capacity absorption

COVID-19 leads to severe decrease in US capacity and extended port stays

US ports have witnessed a greater impact during the pandemic than the global average in terms of median port time, leading to a severe decrease in effective terminal capacity for vessel handling.

As reported by Sea-Intelligence, before the COVID-19 outbreak, data gathered by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) revealed a relatively stable median time spent in port, averaging around 16.5 to 17 hours.

However, as the pandemic reached its peak in the latter half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, this duration increased to approximately 20 hours, showcasing the significant disruptions caused by the global health crisis.

READ: FMC mulls emergency measures to alleviate congestion

The extended port stays were primarily driven by pandemic-related disturbances and the surge in shipping volumes.

According to Sea-Intelligence’s handling index analysis, which compares the median time spent in port with the number of containers shipped, figures clearly demonstrate a substantial increase in the average time required to load and unload individual containers during the pandemic.

© Sea-Intelligence

This lengthening of port time is closely tied to capacity absorption, which refers to the portion of the vessel fleet that becomes unavailable to the market due to delays.

There exists a strong correlation between these two measures, reports Sea-Intelligence, indicating that the supply chain bottlenecks affecting container fleets have likewise impacted terminals.

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“With the median time spent in port as a base, we can augment it with our measure of capacity absorption to calculate the berth capacity absorption i.e., additional amount of berth capacity removed from the market due to longer port stays,” said Alan Murphy, CEO, Sea-Intelligence.

“We then tie that in with import and export volume data for North America and arrive at a berth congestion index for US.”

In the second half of 2022, Sea-Intelligence observed the peak of this impact, with the berth congestion index for the US reaching 35 per cent.

The two-year stretch of a containership backup at the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach officially ended in November 2022.

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