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Cargo thefts along the West Coast have spiked this year as the backlog of container ships at the nation’s largest ports continues to grow heading into the holiday season.
“The more that the supply chain in general is backed up, the more cargo you’re going to have sitting. And that creates a bigger opportunity for thefts,” said Scott Cornell, a crime and theft specialist at insurance company Travelers, according to CBS MoneyWatch.
Thieves made off with more than $5 million worth of goods as a result of so-called supply-chain theft in California during the third quarter of 2021, a surge of about 42 percent from a year ago, according to cargo theft recovery and prevention network CargoNet.
In other parts of the country, CargoNet has seen a year-over-year drop in supply chain theft, but it said it expects to see crimes continue to surge in California and other hard-hit states like Texas and Florida.
“Entering into the final quarter of 2021, CargoNet expects that theft activity will remain elevated,” CargoNet said in its most recent quarterly update.
“We are concerned about targeting of computer electronics shipments shipping from California, as well as a breakout of full truckload cargo thefts spreading across the eastern half of the United States.”
The backlog of ships at America’s two biggest ports, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which collectively account for about one-third of all US imports, has left ships waiting for weeks off the coast while port crew scramble to offload cargo quickly and stash it where they can, including in surrounding neighborhoods.
As of Wednesday, there were 102 container ships waiting to enter the two ports, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.
A port spokesperson said all offloaded container ships are within secure areas.
However, as truckers rush to move the pileup, they provide ample opportunity for thieves, according to Keith Lewis, who oversees CargoNet’s operations.
“What we’re going to see next year is probably going to be similar to what we’re going to see this year, as far as electronics and the same type of commodities,” he told CBS. “I don’t see us coming out of that for a few years.”
Railroad operator Union Pacific said this week that they’ve seen a spike in cargo container break-ins, especially as the containers were being hauled by train near downtown Los Angeles, NBC4 News reported.
The local TV outlet captured chopper footage that showed thousands of boxes, which appeared to have fallen or been tossed off Union Pacific trains, strewn along the railroad tracks near the city.
President Biden announced last month that the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would move to a 24/7 work schedule.
However, the crew at the ports can’t increase their work if they have nowhere to offload the containers due to a nationwide shortage of truckers and other positions along the transportation and supply chain industry.
Port officials have told shippers that they’ll now be slapped with charges of $100 per day for each truck-bound container that’s left for nine days or more.
“We’ve tried diplomacy. We’ve tried collaboration, operations meetings all around, and nothing has moved the needle just yet,” Gene Seroka, the executive director of the Port of LA, told CNBC on Tuesday. “This is a last resort and one I didn’t want to have to take, but we’re starting to see movement.”
LA City officials, meanwhile, are working to identify vacant lots in Wilmington where some of the containers could be stored.