About those anchored ships, and what else is happening because the supply chain’s snarled

(WSB photo from August: Containers stored at T-5)

You’ve probably heard a lot about the logjams in the supply chain leading to a backlog of ships waiting to get into ports.

As of this afternoon, for example, Los Angeles/Long Beach had 77 cargo ships in line.

Seattle’s backlog isn’t anywhere near that bad, but it’s still a logistical challenge, according to port and maritime officials who led a media briefing we attended online this afternoon.

The most visible effects of the backlog, as seen from West Seattle, are ships at anchor off Manchester and in Elliott Bay. But there are other anchorages in Puget Sound, and other options for ships while they wait, explained the briefers – Captain Patrick Hilbert of the U.S. Coast Guard, who’s the Sector Puget Sound commander; Captain Mike Moore of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association; and Port Commission presidents Fred Felleman of Seattle and Dick Marzano of Tacoma.

Whereas previously they would work out berthing logistics with a ship days before its arrival, now they’re doing that three to four weeks in advance. Early discussions might lead a ship to stay anchored in China for a while, for example, before crossing the Pacific. Or a ship’s master might choose to make the crossing at slow speed. Or they might wait a few hundred miles off the Washington coast – or if it’s safer than the open ocean, a ship might even sail “race tracks” (loops) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (with Canada’s permission).

Felleman said the Northwest Seaport Alliance – the joint port authority of Seattle and Tacoma that manages cargo berths in both harbors – has offered its otherwise idle Terminal 46 downtown as a place for ships to wait, though so far no one has accepted the offer, despite low-to-no-cost availability. (Moore said it would probably be most attractive to ships that needed to reprovision, and he would remind his membership – shipping lines and terminal operators – that it’s available.)

The problem, Felleman explained, isn’t a high volume of cargo; he said they’re at about the same level as pre-pandemic, The trouble is that the timing is off throughout the system, disrupting an intricately interwoven series of actions that have to happen to keep everything flowing. With everything way out of synch, containers are piling up on docks because truck drivers aren’t showing up to get them, and that can mean a ship doesn’t get loaded or unloaded. Terminal 18 on Harbor Island, for example, had at one point 7,000 containers, empty and full waiting to be picked up. As we’ve shown you before, under-construction Terminal 5 here in West Seattle is being used as a temporary storage spot for container overflow, as is T-46.

Puget Sound only had three ships at anchor today, they said. Could this area handle some of that massive backup from elsewhere? we asked. Short answer, no, that would just be moving the problem around.

15 Replies to "About those anchored ships, and what else is happening because the supply chain's snarled"

  • Sue T. October 29, 2021 (4:56 am)

    I’ve never heard of Manchester. Where is it visible from West Seattle?

    • WSB October 29, 2021 (9:23 am)

      It’s in Kitsap County, looking across from Beach Drive or higher west-facing points, north of Blake Island. Official name for that anchorage is Yukon Harbor.

    • Pelicans October 29, 2021 (3:34 pm)

      Right outside of, and just south of Rich Pass. The pier there is at the Manchester Fuel Depot.

    • Boomz October 29, 2021 (6:31 pm)

      The black outline is what’s called the Yukon Harbor Anchorage. The red circle is the town of Manchester.

      • Ed Stamp October 29, 2021 (11:52 pm)

        I have that view from my place. I enjoy watching the ships 

  • DAFFY October 29, 2021 (9:14 am)

    Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s ‘Ovation of the Seas’ remains anchored off the northern portion of Blake Island.  As previously reported in the Blog, her sailings out of Australia this winter have been cancelled.  A quick look at Royal Caribbean’s web site shows no cruises scheduled for Ovation until next May … when she’s currently listed to be back on the Alaska circuit.  It’ll be interesting to see how long Ovation hangs around … it’s not like she’s got anywhere else to go right now.  :-) 

    • anonyme October 29, 2021 (10:33 am)

      Meanwhile, it (I refuse to call an inanimate commercial object “she”, tradition or no) continues to pollute the air and discharge toxic filth into Puget Sound, directly into the path of feeding orcas, migrating salmon, and other marine life.  IT needs to get the heck outta here.

      • Boop October 29, 2021 (8:10 pm)

        “… and discharge toxic filth into Puget Sound, directly into the path of feeding orcas, migrating salmon, and other marine life.”

        I’ll give you that it is using diesel generators and thereby discharging that exhaust into the atmosphere.  However I’m curious as to what toxic filth is being discharged into the path of the animals you mention?

        • anonyme October 30, 2021 (8:03 am)

          Sewage and any other liquids used on board for cleaning, etc.  That should be obvious.

          • Tyr1001 November 1, 2021 (7:43 am)

            That enters holding tanks on board and are pumped out when at a pier. only thing they can discharge while in the sound is treated (clean) bilge water. the fines for doing otherwise are astronomical 

  • Ant October 29, 2021 (11:05 am)

    It should get very interesting when Terminal 5 opens in January (at least the north berth I believe). The throughput rates are improving but rail and cargo owners are going to have to improve their act once post-panamax ships start arriving. I know it was by accident but pretty darn good timing by NWSPA for Terminal 5.

  • bolo October 29, 2021 (11:08 am)

    “…containers are piling up on docks because truck drivers aren’t showing up to get them…”

    Long line of trucks parked along E Marginal Way late last night, queued up several hours early (for the next AM opening) waiting to get into the entrance gate. Looks like the truckers are going out of their way to move the freight ASAP?

  • seeker October 29, 2021 (11:11 am)

    Gosh, it’s almost like decades of Greed Is Good corporate raiders and venture capitalists who buy up companies, shut down manufacturing and fire all the workers, especially union ones, and send all the assets overseas has terrible consequences when we can’t make anything of our own in this country.

  • Al King October 29, 2021 (6:52 pm)

    Anonyme. So what about all the other ships/ferries/boats “polluting the air” and  “discharging toxic filth”???? 

    • anonyme October 30, 2021 (8:08 am)

      Al, thanks for pointing that out.  They’re almost as bad, except that they’re not sitting in one place for an extended time.  The industry needs reform that converts to clean energy and prohibits discharge into the water – any water.  Mandatory shore power and sewage pump-outs.  Most modes of transportation are using decades, if not century-old technology.   Change is not just needed, it’s essential and urgent.

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