Most people might not be thinking much about the holidays now, but for those who want to be absolutely sure that they get the gifts they want on time, the time to start shopping and ordering is fast approaching.
The reason for the wildly early concern? A backlog of container ships is stuck off both the east and west coasts of the U.S.
At an outlet mall in Elizabeth, New Jersey, casual shoppers in September are starting to get nervous about holiday shopping in December. That's because just down the road at the shipping terminal sits one of those logjams of container ships. A map shows the ships waiting as they are anchored off the coast of Long Island — something very out of the ordinary.
“It’s pretty unusual to have ships anchoring of of New York. We only have 7 as of this morning," said John Nardi, spokesman for the New York Shipping Association, which represents terminal operators that unload goods.
Nardi said reasons for the container ship backlog are many. First of all, there is record U.S. demand for hard goods which means more ships to begin with. Then there is a shortage of truck drivers and warehouse space to accept and transport the imports when they get to shore.
"They don’t have people to work the warehouses," Nardi said, but couldn't explain why for sure that was the case, although he has some ideas. "There’s been a lot of free money out there and we need people to work and get the freight moving.”
There is worry that the long delays getting goods to terminals could have a ripple effect, delaying products from getting to store shelves before the holidays
The cargo logjam outside New York and New Jersey is worrisome — but it's not nearly as bad as the west coast, where more than 70 vessels are waiting to get into Los Angeles and Long Beach. But Lars Jensen, CEO of Vespucci Maritime, said what has been happening for months in the Pacific is already impacting the Atlantic.
"The problem in California is why you are now beginning to see a problem in New York and New Jersey," Jensen said. "Because the importers are figuring out: What is the point of shipping my stuff to the west coast if it just gets stuck in an interminable queue."
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a statement Tuesday downplaying the notion that there is any significant at the port, saying that there are no labor shortages. The agency also said that they expect to have the seven ships off Long Island docked within the next two days.