The Port of Long Beach said Jan. 19 it handled 9.38 million TEU during 2021, amid elevated demand for US imports and constrained supply-side circumstances.

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This is an increase of nearly 16% from the previous record of over 8.11 million TEU that the port handled in 2020.

Imports in 2021 climbed 14.6% to 4.6 million TEU against 2020, while exports declined 2.6% to 1.44 million TEU.

“The significant increase in cargo was driven by evolving consumer spending habits during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for vacations, dining out and entertainment declined due to health precautions and pivoted toward home office supplies, furniture and exercise equipment,” the port said in a statement Jan. 19.

Empty movements surged 27.5%, to over 3.36 million TEU, as ocean liners prioritized the rapid movement of empty containers to North Asian loading regions, in a bid to capitalize on disproportionately favorable headhaul rates.

Platts Container Rate 13 – North Asia-to-West Coast North America – was assessed Jan. 19 at $9,500/FEU on an FAK basis. On the return route, the US-to-North Asia lane was assessed at $1,000/FEU, or around 10.5% of the headhaul freight rate.

980 containerships called at the port during 2021, 62 less than the prior year, as the elimination of “dual call” services and widespread vessel congestion hampered vessel string velocities.

Omicron uncertainty hits December volumes

Trade slowed down in the final month of the year, and total TEU volumes fell 7.5% to 754,314 TEU.

“The strong economic momentum experienced through 2021 hit a speed bump by year’s end due to the rampant spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19,” the port said.

Containerships loitering outside or slow steaming towards the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex totaled 99 on Jan. 18 the SoCal Marine Exchange said.