Ships are sitting offshore containing items that we desperately need -- what can be done?

Georgia Ports Authority is working to relieve these supply chain issues involved with cargo ships; we’ll tell you how

A cargo ship (WJXT photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.We want to tackle the major problems that impact all of us. We call this new initiative, our solutions journalism show, “Solutionaries.” The idea is to find big-picture solutions to these problems, such as the supply chain crisis.

If you’re in the Jacksonville, Florida area, you’ve likely seen the logjam of container ships sitting idly offshore. The vessels are packed with items destined for store shelves -- and they’re things business owners and consumers desperately need delivered.

Latasha Kaiser owns the restaurant Krave Vegan, which sits in a mall just outside Jacksonville. Kaiser’s whole business is about substituting one ingredient for another to make her dishes vegan.

“Banana blossom -- I use that for fish,” she said. “Again, not in stock.”

And now, with the supply chain shortage, Kaiser’s job is that much harder.

“We have one can left that I’m about (to), after this, going to find and track down banana blossom,” Kaiser said.

Reporter Lauren Verno chats with Latasha Kaiser, owner of the restaurant Krave Vegan. (WJXT photo)

Kaiser hasn’t been able to find the product wholesale.

“It was available when I ordered it, but by the time the truck was loaded, it was out of stock,” she said.

On the chance that Kaiser is able to locate what she needs, she is now having to pay the same price shoppers would pay at a grocery store.

This problem goes well beyond Krave Vegan’s kitchen.

When borders closed around the world in 2020, shipments of goods stopped.

When businesses began reopening, demand returned. Cargo ships filled with items waited to be off-loaded at ports.

However, there were not enough workers to unload the goods, and not enough truckers to deliver them to stores.

And, because demand has outgrown the supply, costs keep going up.

“The price has tripled on many things,” Kaiser said. “Robust, organic, olive oil -- we don’t want to talk about what that case looks like. I’m just going to say it. It was $28 to $32. Now it’s $55 to $65, and that is astronomically insane!”

Getting some answers

We wanted to know: Is relief on the way? Who, if anyone, is succeeding when it comes to relieving the supply chain issues?

We traveled to Savannah, Georgia, where people are trying to figure out how to move forward, starting at the docks.

“Is there one thing to fix this supply chain issue?” we asked Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch at the 2022 Savannah State of the Port event.

“No,” Lynch answered. “There is no one thing to fix it, but what I am seeing is, there are good things that are happening.”

Reporter Lauren Verno interviews Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch. (WJXT photo)

The State of the Port event is a way for the Georgia Ports Authority to show off its accomplishments and what it’s doing right. But that wasn’t always the case. In October, like the rest of the country, Savannah’s ports had up to 30 cargo ships waiting to off-load at any given time.

“And how many do you have today?” we asked Lynch.

“Zero,” he said. “There are zero ships at anchor today.”

The Port of Savannah is the third-largest in the country, with plans to expand container capacity by 60% in the next three years.

For perspective, according to the Georgia Ports Authority, on Feb. 22, 2022, the number of ships waiting at U.S. ports was:

  • Savannah: 0
  • Houston: 11
  • Oakland: 12
  • New York-New Jersey: 15
  • Virgina Port Authority: 15
  • Pacific Northwest Ports: 18
  • South Carolina Ports Authority: 34

“Part of our values is creativity, and that’s asserting ourselves into the supply chain where necessary, and (finding) solutions,” Lynch said. “And one of the solutions to fixing this issue isn’t actually on the water. You’re going to have to go further inland.”

Pop-up yards to the rescue?

Inland, stacked like Legos, are six different pop-up yards owned by the Georgia Ports Authority.

It’s empty land that, in total, offers an additional 500,000 TEUs of annual container space.

A pop-up yard (WJXT photo)

For some background ...

  • TEUs are how cargo ships measure space.
  • A standard 20-foot shipping container is one TEU.
  • Most cargo ships hold between 10,000 and 21,000 TEUs.

And that means combined, the six pop-up yards can fit as many as 50 cargo ships’ worth of containers.

“We need to provide our customers with more space, because they have nowhere to send their cargo,” Lynch said.

Between trucker shortages and a lag in ordering times, Lynch said, businesses aren’t always ready to pick up their shipments when they get to the port. The pop-up yards offer a temporary home for those containers -- creating more space at the port for other ships to off-load.

“There are decisions and things we’ve done that will be a permanent part of our makeup moving forward, as a result of the challenges we’ve had,” Lynch said.

A worldwide issue

But the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority also said pop-up containers alone are not going to fix a worldwide supply chain issue.

“We are still up against it,” he added. “We have zero ships at anchor today but given the fact that many ports (are) highly congested, customers are calling us, asking if they can bring their ship to us. So, we cannot handle 20 million TEUs, right, so we’re building to get to 7 ½ to 9 million TEUs. Every port is a finite number. The nice thing about the Georgia Ports Authority is that our expansion capability is unbelievable and unmatched. It’s just a matter of, how quickly can we build it?”

Time is key, and every day is a race against the clock to keep ships moving and keep businesses open, Lynch said.

Georgia Ports Authority (WJXT photo)

To learn more about “Solutionaries,” or watch previous episodes (we’ve tackled the climate crisis, affordable housing, time banks, and police relations), click or tap here -- or visit our YouTube page.