Crowded L.A. Port Puts Squeeze on Imports

Listen: Part One: The MSC Texas Arrives in Port

Listen: Part Two: Sights and Sounds at Port

Listen: Part Three: Running Security on the Ships

A special three-part series of reports examines the complex interplay of ships and strong hands that move goods from across the world into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the busiest combined ports in America. He also examines the efforts to maintain security on these vessels.

Most of the traffic coming into San Pedro Harbor comes directly from China and other Asian nations that manufacture much of the consumer goods purchased in America. In return, many container ships on their way back to Asia carry the raw goods — lumber, cotton and other essentials — that Asian factories need to keep running.

The MSC Texas is one of a new class of mega container ships more than 1,000 feet long

The MSC Texas, one of a new class of mega container ships more than 1,000 feet long, prepares to enter Long Beach Harbor to conclude its maiden voyage from China. Amy Walters, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Amy Walters, NPR

NPR's Noah Adams documents the arrival of the MSC Texas at the already-backlogged Port of Long Beach. The Texas is one of a new class of "supersized" container ships, more than 1,000 feet long, and the port has been preparing for her arrival for a year. Adams talks with Georg Sherg, the captain of the Texas, about the close fit coming into the dock and the challenges of creating and maintaining an infrastructure to handle the huge load.

Adams talks with David Arian of the ILWU, the union for the longshoremen responsible for getting the containers off the ships and onto the trucks that take them to their next destination. He says his people are working hard to unload container ships, which often anchor outside the port in long lines that can stretch for miles while their captains wait for dock space to unload.

Arian says the backlog is due in part to a hesitation by the shipping companies and terminals to hire enough union workers to add a third eight-hour shift and stay open on weekends. There's also a preference for big customers, like Wal-Mart, that can make the process less efficient. But others warn that dock work can be dangerous, and the extra shifts will mean more injuries and even deaths. And economist Jack Kyser explains that the entire system of importing goods by ship needs to be redesigned — the ports, the trucks, the trains, the warehouses, everything.

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