Much like parents do to their young children, the Port of Los Angeles is reminding ocean carriers to be sure to pick up their belongings once they're no longer used — or there will be consequences. But in this case, those belongings are empty shipping containers and the consequences will come in the form of $100 fines.

Effective starting on Jan. 30, the Port of Los Angeles says it will charge ocean carriers that are delinquent in retrieving empty containers at area unloading locations. That's according to a press statement from the port authority that was unveiled on the penultimate day of 2021. Assuming the penalty is approved by the Los Angeles Harbor Commission, the fees will start at $100 per container if they've been there for nine days. The penalty will then increase by an additional $100 for each day that they remain uncollected.

Gene Steroka, the executive director at the Port of Los Angeles, noted that although congestion levels have gone down, simple actions — like being mindful of other users' needs — can help to reduce bottlenecks more swiftly.

"While we have seen significant success reducing import containers on our docks the past two months, too many empty containers are currently sitting on marine terminals," Steroka said. "Just like the import dwell fee, the objective with this empty container program is not to collect fees but to free up valuable space on our docks, clearing the way for more ships and improving fluidity."

" A number of strategies are improving the flow of goods coming into shipping ports."

Lawmakers, business owners and supply chain stakeholders have gone to a number of different strategies to improve the flow of goods coming into shipping ports. This includes keeping the nation's largest trade ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach) open 24 hours a day, imposing dwell fees, productivity-related incentives and leveraging real-time data to identify supply chain inefficiencies.

Container dwell times are down substantially
These remedies seem to be working. Indeed, the dwell time for import containers has diminished across the board, down 42% for containers dwelling between zero and four days, 44% five to eight days and 52% for containers dwelling for nine days or more.

The waiving of traffic mitigation fees on weekend also appears to have had its intended effect, as traffic has picked up during hours that typically aren't as busy.

That being said, the amount of time vessels are idling remains considerable. According to the most recent estimates from the Port of Los Angeles time tracker, the current average is 23.4 days. Some vessels have been waiting for much longer than that, including 40 for the Navios Amarillo (arrived Nov. 27) and 44 days for the Ren Jian 27 (arrived Nov. 23).

Overall import volumes have trended downward fairly consistently, suggesting that demand may have finally reached its peak. This is part of the reason why some economists and logistics firms are optimistic about the supply chain flows improving in the second half of 2022, assuming the trends continue.

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