ARUN RATH, HOST:
Shipping companies and dockworkers at ports on the West Coast reached a tentative deal last night. A labor dispute has jammed the movement of cargo in and out of ports up and down the coast. The twin ports of LA and Long Beach are the nation's largest port complex. And you can still see the backlog of container ships anchored out on the ocean. NPR's Daniel Hajek went down there to take a look.
DANIEL HAJEK, BYLINE: Up on this bluff in San Pedro, Calif., that overlooks the massive port complex of Los Angeles and Long Beach, it's a bizarre sight - silhouettes of giant cargo ships sitting out in the ocean like they're dead on the water. It's hazy up here so we'll need to get a closer look.
KEVIN NGUYEN: Welcome aboard the Christina.
HAJEK: Captain Kevin Nguyen is at the helm of this Harbor Breeze tour cruise in Pierpoint Landing in Long Beach. And he's set course for the giants looming on the horizon.
NGUYEN: We're currently having a congestion problem here on the port.
HAJEK: The farther out we go, the more cargo ships we start to see. They tower over our boat - massive vessels loaded with stacks upon stacks of thousands of containers. Behind these cargo ships are dozens more in the distance. And back at Pierpoint Landing, it's all people can talk about.
BRUCE ROOT: There's a lot of them out there, yeah. It kind of looks gnarly out there.
HAJEK: That's Bruce Root, captain of a fishing boat. He was just out there the other day and says it was like a parking lot of container ships.
ROOT: I put the radar on, and the radar was just all dots. I put it on three miles radius. It was just solid ships. We were counting them.
HAJEK: At the ports Los Angeles and Long Beach, over $1 billion worth of cargo comes through here every day. That's a lot of money sitting out on the water. And some ships have been anchored for weeks. During negotiations this week, these ports were moving cargo. It's just been really slow for everyone.
Down Pico Avenue in the port of Long Beach, you'll find a little seafood joint called Berth 55 Fish Market and Deli. Out on the patio, there's a view of the giant cranes that line the channel.
LAWRENCE MAEHARA: We're in the middle of the port. This is where all the hustle and bustle happens.
HAJEK: Lawrence Maehara owns this restaurant. Not much hustle and bustle lately. Half of his customers are port workers.
MAEHARA: Today was dead. People in the bar - nonexistent.
HAJEK: Now with this tentative deal, he hopes things will pick up again. Back at Pierpoint Landing, Bruce Root says he knew they'd reach an agreement sooner or later.
ROOT: It happens about every 7 to 10 years. Contract comes up, and they fight it out for a while and everything gets going.
HAJEK: But this is no quick fix. There is a lot of cargo out there. It'll take weeks, if not months to clear the backlog of ships waiting out at sea. Daniel Hajek, NPR News.
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