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Port of Los Angeles Plans Fees to Encourage Clearing Empty Containers

fee on empty containers sitting too long at Port of Los Angeles
Port of Los Angeles is seeking to decrase the number of empty containers at its terminals and off dock yard (Port of Los Angeles)

Published Dec 31, 2021 12:48 PM by The Maritime Executive

In the latest effort to clear some of the congestion at the container terminals, the Port of Los Angeles said it plans to begin charging a fee to ocean carriers that allow empty containers to linger for nine days or longer.  This latest effort comes as the port has delayed for two months its fee on long dwell import containers, with port officials now complaining that the empties are the primary offender taking up space in the port and its off-site storage yards.

“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,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “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.”

In the port’s most recent statistics update on the cargo operations, they reported that there were more than 71,000 empties at the terminals and off-dock depots. Export empties returning to Asia increased nearly 11 percent in November 2021 compared to a year ago with the port saying that the terminals handled 325,275 empties during the month. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2021, export empties totaled nearly 3.7 million up from 2.6 million in the prior year.

Describing the port operations, Seroka said earlier in December that despite “a bunch of one-way charters,” 60 percent of the empties were nine days or more at the port. He repeated a call for the carriers to bring more sweeper vessels in to clear the backlog of empties. 

The proposed policy specifically targets the empty containers dwelling in the port for nine days or more. If approved by Los Angeles Harbor Commission, starting January 30, 2022, the 30 ocean carriers operating at the Port of Los Angeles will be charged $100 for an empty container dwelling for nine days, increasing in $100 increments per container per day until the container leaves the terminal. Like the previously approved dwell time fee on imports, implementation of the new surcharge will be at the discretion of the executive director.

The Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach announced a similar program that was due to start November 1 for lingering import containers. The ports have delayed enacting the fee on the import containers saying that the threat of the fee had helped to speed the movement of the containers. Los Angeles said import containers dwelling more than nine days has been reduced by 53 percent since the end of October. The twin ports have seen a combined decline of 41 percent in aging cargo on the docks. As expected, progress eased due to year-end holidays, with the ports next considering on January 3, 2022, implementing the fee on import containers.

The Port of Long Beach has not announced if it would follow Los Angeles with fees on empties. The ports have said that any fees collected from dwelling cargo will be reinvested for programs designed to enhance efficiency, accelerate cargo velocity and address congestion impacts.