A crowded sea

We landlubbers are used to crowds and queues. You have to wonder how sailors feel about such things. Here’s a look at the traffic jam in the San Francisco Bay. All the yellow dots are cargo ships waiting to unload at the Port of Oakland.

The image is from Vessel Finder which is a really cool website. Ocean-going ships use a technology called AIS or Automatic Identification System which uses transceivers to broadcast position, course, and speed. This is analogous to air traffic control but for marine applications. We civilians don’t have to worry about preventing collisions or managing maritime traffic but that stuff obviously needs to get done. The world’s oceans may be vast, but the sea lanes get congested at choke points. Harbors, bays, inlets, straits, and the like constrict the passage of ships and sometimes they get jammed up, just like commuters on the Bay Bridge.

When you see cargo ships moored in SF Bay that usually means they are waiting to off-load. The yellow dots on the map are almost all container ships. (The orange dot labeled MTM Tokyo is a oil tanker.) The Port of Oakland is experiencing unprecedented volumes at this time. It seems the pandemic has increased consumer spending, thus increasing shipping demand. At the same time, the Port can’t deploy as many people to handle the increased traffic, which is also a pandemic issue. So, we get a traffic jam.

The pandemic has heightened our awareness of supply chains and global inter-connectedness. (Is that a word?) Going forward, we need to improve the resiliency of these systems as domestic economies cannot “go it alone” any more. We are all one big “marketplace” these days.

Here’s what MSC Teresa, the yellow dot at the bottom of the picture, looks like:

Certainly would not want to bump into that fella if I’m out kayaking or pleasure sailing!

MSC Teresa was built in 2011 and flies under a Panamanian flag. It’s 366 meters (1201 feet) in length and its width (or “beam”) is 51 meters (167 feet). This particular voyage originated in Yantian, China, and had a stopover in Long Beach before steaming north. The Port of Oakland is the fifth-busiest in the nation behind Los Angeles, Long Beach, New York-New Jersey, and Savannah.

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