The Port of Los Angeles has moved to 24-hour operations to clear backlogs © Mario Tama/Getty Images
The Port of Los Angeles has moved to 24-hour operations to clear backlogs © Mario Tama/Getty Images

Record container backlogs at ports a 'feeding ground' for criminals

15 November 2021

Cargo theft is increasing due to record levels of shipping containers left at ports, research has found.  

Almost $45m worth of products have been stolen from containers across North America in the first three quarters of 2021, data from CargoNet shows. 

Michael Yarwood, managing director, loss prevention for TT Club, a transport and logistics insurance firm, told Supply Management: “Greater volumes of cargo at rest will offer a rich feeding ground for those with criminal intentions to access and steal cargo.” 

Yarwood said increased numbers of containers created challenges beyond supply chain difficulties because greater backlogs meant less security was available.

“There are those shipments that are delayed through congestion and are perhaps held in container depots/terminals and transport yards and warehouses for a greater period of time than planned,” he said. 

“There is the potential impact on security when those depots or indeed truck stops reach peak volumes and beyond – are they able to adequately secure/care for those trucks, trailers and cargo?”

Thefts at Californian ports, which are responsible for over 40% of all US imports and have seen record levels of stored containers, increased 42% year-on-year in the nine months to 30 September. A total 208 thefts occurred across California with goods worth $5m taken, more than any other US state.

Texas had the second-highest rate of cargo thefts with 162 cases, while Florida reported 117 cases. 

Electronic devices were the most targeted goods, with nearly 70% of these thefts occurring in California.

The average value of goods stolen from containers was $140,930 per theft. 

Keith Lewis, vice president of CargoNet, which monitors container thefts along the supply chains, told Yahoo Finance: “Freighted rest is traded risk.

“With the logjam at the port[s] and getting the containers out of there, getting them to stack yards, carrier yards, etc. the freight is sitting.”

CargoNet said it expects theft activity to remain “elevated” for the final quarter of 2021.

It also said it is “concerned about targeting of computer electronics shipments shipping from California, as well as a breakout of full truckload cargo thefts spreading across the eastern half of the United States.” 

According to the Marine Exchange, a total of 111 ships were waiting to dock at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach due to the backlogs on 10 November. 

Prior to the pandemic, the ports' highest record had been 17 ships.

This comes despite moves from the Biden administration to tackle the backlogs, including introducing 24/7 operations.

The ports have also introduced fines for containers left for over nine days. Fees will increase by $100 for every day the container lingers past the time limit. The fines were originally meant to come into effect 1 November, but are now being charged from 15 November. 

According to data reported by American Shipper, at the start of this month there were nearly 60,000 containers at these ports that had been there for more than nine days and would be eligible for fines.

Gene Seroka, executive director at the Port of Los Angeles, told CNBC the fines were a “last resort” to get the containers moved. 

He said: “We’ve tried diplomacy. We’ve tried collaboration, operations meetings all around, and nothing has moved the needle just yet. This is a last resort and one I didn’t want to have to take, but we’re starting to see movement.”

Around 40% of import containers on terminals have been idle for at least nine days, the Port of Long Beach said.

Before the pandemic caused major supply chain disruptions at ports across the globe, containers would typically sit at terminals for less than four days.

Any fees collected from dwelling cargo will be reinvested in programmes designed to enhance efficiency and address congestion impacts, according to the ports.

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