The Busiest Port in the U.S. (Published 2021) (2023)


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California Today

The Port of Los Angeles plays a major role in the global supply chain. Here’s what has gone wrong.

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By Soumya Karlamangla


The Busiest Port in the U.S. (Published 2021) (2)
(Video) Why U.S. Ports Are Some Of The Least Efficient In The World

When you think of Los Angeles, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a massive, industrial shipping hub.

But despite its glitzy image, L.A. is home to the busiest port in the Western Hemisphere. It plays a major role in the global supply chain, the disruption of which by the pandemic has led to shortages of computer chips, diapers and pet food, as well as inflation and price hikes that are expected to worsen as holiday shopping kicks off.

In a bid to ease the backlog, President Biden announced last week that the Port of L.A. would start operating 24/7, as the adjoining Port of Long Beach began doing last month.

Together, the two maritime gateways account for 40 percent of all seaborne imports to the United States. Biden’s involvement in the ports’ operations speaks to just how crucial they are to the health of the American economy.

This weekend, I drove down to the Port of Los Angeles, which is 25 miles south of downtown L.A. in a community called San Pedro.

As I approached the coastline from the freeway, a tangle of cranes emerged on the horizon. Entering the port felt like descending into another world, a sprawling complex of colorful containers as big as railway cars and stacked taller than multistory buildings.

The port, which spans 12 square miles on sea and land, moves nearly $300 billion of cargo each year, largely to and from Asia. Its biggest trading partner by far is China, followed by Japan and Vietnam.

Demand for goods has been higher than ever this year, as Americans’ buying habits have shifted during the pandemic, spending more on products — new desks and stationary bikes — than services, such as going out to dinner or a movie. L.A. officials say that 2021 is on track to break the port’s annual record for imports and exports.


As I scanned the shoreline, I spotted ships docked at the port as well as several more stationed farther out, waiting to approach.

Before the pandemic, ships typically arrived and immediately began unloading their goods. But the logjam has forced ships to line up at sea for days. As of Friday, 29 barges were waiting for a berth.

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  • Employee Strike: In one of the nation’s biggest strikes in recent years, teaching assistants, researchers and other workers across the University of California system walked off the jobto demand higher pay.
(Video) How One Of The World's Busiest Ports Operates - Industrious - Documentary

This bottleneck has consequences beyond the economy. The ships are pumping out pollutants as they idle, clogging the air with smoke. Plus, one of their anchors may have caused the recent oil spill off the Orange County coast.

The new expansion of hours at the L.A. port is aimed at getting these cargo ships in and out faster. The move will probably help reduce congestion, but it’s no silver bullet.

Americans’ relentless purchasing has created shortages at the factory level, restricting what products can even be made and shipped. Coronavirus surges worldwide have closed manufacturing plants and limited the number of workers who usually toil along different parts of the supply chain.

In L.A., even if barges are unloaded more quickly onto the docks because of round-the-clock operations, there aren’t enough truck drivers and available warehouses to prevent bottlenecks from forming elsewhere.

After all, it’s a supply chain, and the port is just one link.

For more:

  • Why is the city of L.A. shaped so strangely? Because of the port.

  • Supply-chain snarls delay books.

  • Germany’s economy is particularly vulnerable to shortages.


The rest of the news

  • Theranos: What you missed in the sixth week of the Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial.

  • Clinton’s hospital stay: Former President Bill Clinton was released from a California hospital on Sunday after being admitted for a urological infection that developed into sepsis.

  • Threats and resignations: A Times examination of hundreds of health departments shows the nation may be less prepared for the next pandemic than it was for the current one.

  • Hospital strikes: Long-simmering disputes with unions over staffing at California hospitals are reaching crisis points, CalMatters reports.

  • Anti-vaccine walkout: Some California parents are planning to keep their children home from school today in protest of the state’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, KRON4 reports.

    (Video) The Ports of North America Final


  • IATSE agreement: A Hollywood crew strike scheduled for today has been averted.

  • Santa Barbara fire: After burning for nearly a week, the Alisal fire has been 78 percent contained, The Associated Press reports.

  • Vaccination deadline: About 97 percent of teachers and administrators met the Los Angeles Unified School District deadline to be vaccinated against Covid-19, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • A threat to ancient trees: Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks have some of the highest ozone levels in the nation, thanks to smog that blows in other areas, Wired reports.


  • The Giants: San Francisco had a 109-win season dissolve at the hands of a bitter rival, but they still view their future as bright.

  • Lake Tahoe: The lake’s water supply is so low that it is no longer flowing into the Truckee River, keeping kokanee salmon from spawning in a major tributary, The Los Angeles Times reports.


What we’re eating

Three ways to roast squash.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Melissa Roghani, who recommends the Huntington Library:

“A beautiful estate with a museum containing “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” historical documents, and gorgeous Japanese, Chinese, Cactus, Rose, and Shakespeare gardens. Multiple restaurants and gift shop are also included. Much research is conducted there and many lectures are provided to the public on-site and online.

It’s my happy place.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What we’re recommending

I’m a tad late to the party, but HBO’s “White Lotus” is incredible.

Tell us

I’m headed to San Diego soon to do some reporting. What should I write about?

Email me suggestions at

And before you go, some good news

The Marin Independent Journal recently asked its readers for six-word stories about endings.

As you might expect during a society-disrupting pandemic, many of the submissions were tales of woe, of lives and friendships lost.

(Video) Analyzing the shipping backlog from one of America's busiest ports

Yet there were also some of hope:

“Marriage ended long ago; I began.” — Penny Crow, Mill Valley

“Accounting career ended. Grandparent role started.” — Pat Hager, Mill Valley

“Quit the phone games, regained life.” — Janice Kohnhorst, San Rafael

“Met, married another. Met again, married.” — Maria Hilakos Hanke, Ignacio

Thanks for starting your week with me. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Classic arcade game where you have to avoid colliding with the wall (5 letters).

Briana Scalia and Mariel Wamsley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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What is the busiest port in America 2021? ›

The Port of Los Angeles (POLA) is the busiest port in the United States for the last 21 years, and in the last year, it broke its annual container volume record handling approximately 10.7 million TEUs.

What is the busiest port? ›


What is the 4th busiest container ship port in the US today? ›

The Port of Savannah is the fourth busiest port in the US and just outside the world's top 30, with traffic of 4.35 million TEU. It is home to the largest single-terminal container facility in the Western Hemisphere and two deep-water terminals.

What is the busiest port in the world 2021? ›

Shanghai continues to consolidate its position as the world's busiest container port, topping the list for the 12th consecutive year and growing for the 12th year in a row. It has now widened the gap with its nearest competitor, Singapore, to almost 10 million.

Who owns the US ports 2021? ›

Founded in 1921, Ports America manages 13.4 million TEUs annually.

Which is the busiest port in the US and California? ›

The Southern California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (L.A. port complex) are together the nation's busiest container port complex and primary gateway for waterborne trade between the United States and Asia.

Which is the biggest and busiest port? ›

Mumbai Port, Maharashtra

It is also India's largest port by size, spread over a 46.3-hectare area with a pier length touching 8,000 km. Mumbai Port has one of the best locations for an Indian sea port.

How many ports are there in USA? ›

There are approximately 360 commercial ports that serve the United States, according to the U.S Coast Guard. Many of these accommodate ocean-going cargo, as well as barges, ferries and recreational watercraft.

Which country has the busiest seaport in the world 2022? ›

1. CNSHG – Port of Shanghai (China) The port of Shanghai has been the busiest container port in the world for years.

What is the busiest port on the East coast of the United States? ›

New York/New Jersey is the busiest for containers, followed by Savannah, Norfolk and Charleston. Scroll over the circles on each port to see how many 20-foot container units or TEUs each one handled through the first nine months of 2020.

Where are the major shipping ports in the US? ›

List by 2013 figures
Rank (by total trade)Port nameState
1Port of South LouisianaLouisiana
2Port of HoustonTexas
3Port of New York and New Jersey Port NewarkNew Jersey New York
4Port of BeaumontTexas
56 more rows

Which US port exports the most? ›

7. Port of Houston. Houston, Texas is considered the top region for United States exports.

What is the biggest container ship in the world 2021? ›

As of June 2022, the record for the largest container ship is held by the Ever Alot built by CSSC, with a capacity of 24,004 TEU. As of August 2021, the record for most containers loaded onto a single ship is held by the Ever Ace, which carried a total of 21,710 TEU of containers from Yantian to Europe.

Which city is one of the world's busiest ports? ›

1. Port of Shanghai. As the largest port in China, the Port of Shanghai is also the busiest port in the world. With a central location along the Chinese coastline and the Yangtze River Delta, this bustling harbor handles approximately 25.7 percent of China's international trade volume.

Which is the busiest port in the world and what does it import and export to other countries? ›

Port of Shanghai – China

It has been one of the world's most active international trade hubs for over a century. This is still the busiest in the world today in terms of cargo tonnage.

Do the Chinese own U.S. ports? ›

Chinese state-owned enterprises hold ownership stakes in terminals at five U.S. ports. COSCO has established joint ventures at Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and CMPort holds a minority stake in a French firm's terminals at Miami and Houston.

Who controls U.S. shipping ports? ›

The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government jurisdiction over the navigable waters of the United States. Eighteen federal departments and agencies have a role in governance. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have the primary delegated authority.

Who runs America's ports? ›

Ports America is owned by Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, a leader in value-added infrastructure investing.

What are the 3 largest ports in the world? ›

The Top 50 Container Ports.
PortVolume 2019 (Million TEU)
1Shanghai, China43.30
3Ningbo-Zhoushan, China27.49
4Shenzhen, China25.77
47 more rows

What are the two largest ports? ›

Georgia Deepwater Ports

As one of the busiest ports on the U.S. East Coast, Savannah handles approximately 80 percent of the ship-borne cargo entering Georgia. Specializing in automobile importing, Brunswick handles nearly all of Georgia's remaining shipping traffic.

Which is the second largest port of our country? ›

Chennai Port

As the second biggest port in India, Chennai Port (also known as the Madras port) handles over 100 million metric tons of cargo per year. It began operations in 1881 as the third established port in India.

What are the four largest ports in the United States? ›

The Port of Oakland ranks among the four largest Pacific Coast ports for container cargo, after the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle, and Tacoma (NWSA).

Which state has most port? ›

The majority of ports in India are located in the below-given states:
  • Maharashtra -53.
  • Gujarat -40.
  • Tamil Nadu – 15.
  • Karnataka – 10.

What state has the biggest port? ›

The largest port by size in the United States is the Port of Los Angeles. This massive facility takes up about 8,000 acres of land, and it is continuing to increase its footprint with its rail systems.

Where is the deepest port in the world? ›

Considered as the world's biggest deep water port, Yangshan is built on the islands of Greater and Lesser Yangshan and is connected to the mainland through the world's largest sea bridge – Donghai Bridge.

What is the smallest port in the world? ›

Depoe Bay is the world's smallest natural navigable harbor, currently covering approximately six acres, with a 50-foot wide, 100-foot long rockbound, dog-legged channel connecting to the Pacific Ocean.

Which port is deepest? ›

Visakhapatnam port in the state of Andhra Pradesh is the deepest port in India with a natural depth of above 16.5 meters.

What is a major port city in the US? ›

Los Angeles

Which city has the largest port facility in the US? ›

1. Los Angeles. Also known as America's Port, the Port of Los Angeles is the largest port in North America. Spread over 7500 acres, it handles 20 percent of all incoming cargo for the United States.

What was the first port in the US? ›

America's first port

Boston Harbor is a natural harbor and an estuary of Massachusetts Bay. It is located adjacent to the city of Boston. It is home to the Port of Boston, the Western Hemisphere's oldest continually active seaport.

What is the largest port in North America? ›

Port of Los Angeles

Port Los Angeles is the largest port in North America. The whole complex covers 30 km2 and stretches over 70 km of the coast. It was created in 1907. The port has 270 quays and 27 terminals.

What is America's 3rd largest port? ›

List by 2013 figures
Rank (by total trade)Port nameTotal trade
1Port of South Louisiana238,585,604
2Port of Houston229,246,833
3Port of New York and New Jersey Port Newark123,322,644
4Port of Beaumont94,403,631
56 more rows

What are the top 5 busiest ports in the world? ›

  • Shanghai Port. The Shanghai Port, owned by the Shanghai International Port Company Ltd, tops the list of the busiest ports in the world in 2022. ...
  • Singapore Port. ...
  • Port of Ningbo, China. ...
  • Shenzhen Port. ...
  • Port of Guangzhou, China. ...
  • Port of Busan. ...
  • Port of Qingdao, China. ...
  • Port of Hong Kong.
2 Feb 2022

What state has the largest port in the United States? ›

  • TEUs: 9,079,561. The Port of Los Angeles in California, also referred to as America's Port is the largest port in the US. ...
  • TEUs: 7,884,565. ...
  • TEUs: 7,455,786. ...
  • TEUs: 4,682,255. ...
  • TEUs: 3,500,000. ...
  • TEUs: 3,320,379. ...
  • TEUs: 3,150,062. ...
  • TEUs: 2,460,000.
1 Jul 2022

What is the second largest port? ›

The Top 50 Container Ports.
PortVolume 2019 (Million TEU)
1Shanghai, China43.30
3Ningbo-Zhoushan, China27.49
4Shenzhen, China25.77
47 more rows

What is the largest seaport in the world 2022? ›

1. CNSHG – Port of Shanghai (China) The port of Shanghai has been the busiest container port in the world for years.

How many ports are there in the US? ›

There are approximately 360 commercial ports that serve the United States, according to the U.S Coast Guard.

What is the largest and busiest types of ports? ›

What is the largest and busiest kind of port? Seaports are the largest and busiest ports as they handle international trade and commerce. Hence, they have more terminals for handling cargo and passengers.

How many US ports are owned by China? ›

Chinese state-owned enterprises hold ownership stakes in terminals at five U.S. ports. COSCO has established joint ventures at Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Seattle, and CMPort holds a minority stake in a French firm's terminals at Miami and Houston.


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