On Sept. 27, she embarked across the unfathomable expanse of the Pacific.
No one could have been surprised by the madness that greeted her on the other side as she arrived off the Port of Long Beach nearly two weeks later, on Oct. 9.
The two ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach handle two-fifths of all imports reaching the United States from Asia via container vessels. That flow would increase by more than 17 percent over the second half of 2021 compared with the previous year. The surge proved overwhelming.
More than 50 ships were stuck out in the ocean, waiting for a dock to open in the mother of all traffic jams.
For the first six days, the Emden did not even have a place to anchor. It ran a slow, looping course in the waters off the port, before anchoring in formation with nine other vessels, roughly three miles off the coast, according to data compiled by AIS Maritime Intelligence, a unit of MarineTraffic. There, it sat for another 10 days, having become a floating warehouse.
Any one vessel stuck in the water indicated that a massive quantity of goods was not getting where it was supposed to be. The Maersk Emden alone was carrying 474 containers for LG, the South Korean home appliance giant, according to customs data tabulated by ImportGenius, which tracks global shipping. Nike had 74 containers on board. Mattel, the toy company, had 96. Just as the weather was turning cold in North America, 48 containers shipped by Burlington Coat Factory were stuck on the vessel.
Taken as a whole, the products bobbing on the Pacific — carried to the United States not just from China but from South Korea, Mexico, Australia, the South Pacific and the Middle East — could collectively fill an empire of warehouses and shopping malls.
One ship held enough animal feed to sustain 20,000 cows for a week. Five ships collectively carried 13 million pounds of Fiji brand bottled water. Others bore enough Heineken beer to slake the thirst of every adult in San Francisco for a year. A key element for making synthetic fabrics and plastic bottles was stuck in the queue along with solar panels, chain link fencing, fabric for carpets for Tesla cars and Cornhole game equipment.