The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Mega-Ships, Mega-Profits, Mega-Mess

Dec 6, 2021

The logjam of the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California is unprecedented. The pile-up of container ships and containers already on the ground at the ports is continuing. Mega-ships are one of the reasons for this ongoing blockage and all the “not in stock” signs we experience.

A mega-ship can carry more than 20,000 containers. Even when the ports have enough longshoremen and cranes to unload 20,000 containers, each container needs an entire truck to carry it off somewhere. That’s a line-up of 20,000 trucks, for one ship. Picture it! When Britain was short of certain foods for a few weeks because truckers could not fill out the correct paperwork after Brexit was voted in, that was a line of 4,000 trucks—not 20,000! U.S. railroads are also short of cars to carry off containers. In October at one point, half a million containers were stuck on the docks of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

And because mega-ships are so huge, only eight ports throughout the country can handle them. These huge ships have been operating for about 25 years, so the lack of ability to handle them has another cause—profits. If twice as many ports could handle these ships, then they would be half as backed up.

Mega-ships are longer than four football fields from end to end and as high as a 10-story building. Currently the top ten ocean shipping companies control 80% of shipping, more than double what they used to control. That means they pushed half their competitors to either merge or go out of business. And they jacked up their prices over the past year, just as economies were trying to recover from pandemic shut-downs. That’s why eight of these companies are on track to make 100 billion dollars—just in profit, just in one year!

These mega-ships can cost close to a billion dollars to build. So that was the companies’ excuse to mark up the cost of shipping 400%, a cost that is passed on to the consumer. And Wall Street investors and speculators from hedge funds love to buy the stock of these companies. As a corporate consultant told the Los Angeles Times, "These companies are making enough money in one year to cover whatever investments they’ve made in the last 10. One entire voyage is enough to earn back the cost of an entire ship. That’s like taking one trip as an Uber driver and being paid the value of the car."

Not only does the world pay for their mega-profits. Remember the Ever Given mega-ship, wedged into the side of the Suez Canal? There’s a battle going on among the shipping insurers of the world, a battle that will cost billions of dollars and take years to untangle among their lawyers about who is responsible for the Ever Given disaster, when it blocked shipping, snarling containers for weeks and weeks, giving headaches and worse to customers all across the world.