Some shippers have rearranged their schedules, stopping off in Oakland, Calif., 400 miles to the north, before continuing to Los Angeles. But containers are stacked on ships in configurations set by their destinations. A sudden change in plans means moving the stacks around like a Jenga game.

And the port in Oakland is dealing with its own pandemic problems. Dockworkers are home tending to children who are not in school, said Bryan Brandes, the port’s maritime director.

“In normal times, vessels come directly into Oakland,” Mr. Brandes said. “Right now, we’re ranging anywhere from seven to 11 vessels at anchorage.”

The dysfunction on the American West Coast has caused problems thousands of miles away.

Scoular, one of the largest agricultural exporters in the United States, loads grain and soybeans into containers at terminals like Chicago and Kansas City, and then sends them by rail to Pacific ports en route to Asia.

Given the prices fetched by containers in Asia, shipping carriers are increasingly unloading in California and then immediately putting empty boxes back on ships for the return leg to Asia, without waiting to load grain or other American exports. That has left companies like Scoular scrambling to secure passage.

Delays at the ports frequently bump Scoular’s containers to different vessels, forcing the company to redo its customs paperwork — another delay.

“It’s the schedule reliability that is a problem,” said Sean Healy, Scoular’s carrier relations manager. “It’s a global issue.”

In recent weeks, shipping carriers have aggressively moved empty containers to Asia, increasing availability there, according to data from Container xChange, a consultant in Hamburg, Germany.

Some experts assume that as vaccinations increase and life returns to normal, Americans will again shift their spending — from goods back to experiences — reducing the need for containers.

But even as that happens, retailers will begin building up inventories for the holiday shopping binge.

The stimulus spending plan moving through Congress may generate hiring that could prompt another wave of buying, as previously jobless people replace aging appliances and add to their wardrobes.

“There could be a whole other subset of consumers out there that haven’t been able to consume,” said Michael Brown, a container analyst at KBW in New York. “You are potentially looking at some shortages for quite some time.”

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