Photos: Is the port less crowded? Depends on whom you ask

Container ships discharge cargo on Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles
Container ships discharge cargo on Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles as motor traffic streams along Harbor Boulevard in San Pedro.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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San Pedro Bay is looking less crowded these days. The fleet of massive container ships loitering just off the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles has thinned to 46 boats from its peak of more than 80 in late October.

Is that a good sign for Southern California’s congested supply chain, and the breathability of its air? That depends on whom you ask.

Kids play on a Little League baseball field that overlooks the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.
Kids play on a Little League baseball field that overlooks the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

At a news conference Tuesday to mark Labor Secretary Marty Walsh’s first visit to the port complex, Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka pointed to the drop in anchored ships as a sign of progress. “Since we instituted a penalty for long-aging containers, the number of ships at anchor has decreased by more than 40% over a four-week period,” Seroka said.

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The dramatic decline stems from a new policy set by shipping trade groups that encouraged incoming ships to wait out in the open ocean. Starting Nov. 16, boats crossing the Pacific have been asked to sit 150 miles offshore as they wait for a slot to unload, and boats traveling north or south along the coast were asked to sit 50 miles out. Although only 46 ships were waiting in San Pedro Bay as of Wednesday, an estimated 50 additional container ships that embarked after the change are now loitering over the horizon, which would raise the total backlog to a record high.

Tugboats guide a container ship to a dock at the Port of Los Angeles
Tugboats guide a container ship to a dock at the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
 Trucks line up to enter the Evergreen Marine  terminal in the Port of Los Angeles
Trucks line up to enter the Evergreen Marine Corp. terminal in the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Cargo containers move by rail through the Port of Los Angeles
Cargo containers move by rail through the Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Trucks haul cargo containers across the Vincent Tomas Bridge
Trucks haul containers across the Vincent Tomas Bridge, which links Terminal Island to San Pedro.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
New imported vehicles parked in a sprawling dockyard await delivery
New imported vehicles parked in a sprawling dockyard await delivery on Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
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A pleasure boat motors past ships unloading cargo containers
A pleasure boat motors past ships unloading cargo containers.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Container ships anchor in the Port of Los Angeles
Container ships anchor in the Port of Los Angeles.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A pleasure boat is dwarfed by a ship and stacks of cargo containers
A pleasure boat is dwarfed by a ship and stacks of cargo containers on Terminal Island.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)