Record month caps record year for containerized cargo at the Port of Charleston

Date: Thursday, January 18, 2018
Source: The Post and Courier

The State Ports Authority ended 2017 the same way it began the year, with a monthly record for containerized cargo in December that gave the maritime agency its best annual totals in its 75-year history.

The Port of Charleston moved 103,756 cargo boxes through its terminals in December, pushing the 12-month total to 1.23 million containers — a 9.4 percent increase over the previous year and nearly double the average growth for U.S. ports in 2017.

Last year's figure beat the SPA's previous annual cargo record, set in 2016, by 106,131 containers.

"Global container trade growth was the strongest it has been since 2010, mirroring surprising strength in the global economy," said Jim Newsome, the SPA's president and CEO. "We expect to see continued strength, albeit slightly more modest, into 2018 with growth in the emerging market economies as a key factor in sustaining this positive outlook."

The annual total was led by 8.1 percent growth in imports, reflecting strong demand by U.S. consumers. Exports increased 7.4 percent during 2017. 

The SPA also set a record with 124,817 cargo containers moved at its inland port in Greer during the calendar year — a 20.4 percent increase over 2016 totals.

Charleston's port set cargo records in 10 of the 12 months in 2017, kicking off the year with its best-ever January and continuing to top previous marks as the Ocean Alliance shipping consortium started bringing vessels capable of hauling 14,000 containers.

Those ships, which call on the port once a week, will be joined by a second weekly string of so-called neo-Panamax vessels in May. A third weekly service of ships built to sail through the expanded Panama Canal could join them by the end of this year.

The extra vessel capacity will be important as the SPA looks to boost cargo in its current fiscal year, which started on July 1, by 6 percent or more — a goal Newsome called "achievable." The agency has already seen increases in plastics exports transloaded from the Gulf Coast, and appliance maker Samsung recently started importing parts for its newly opened washing machine factory in Newberry.

 

Volvo Cars, which is building a $1.1 billion manufacturing campus in Berkeley County, will start exporting vehicles this fall as production of a newly redesigned S60 sedan begins.

"Our main commercial priority this year is to improve our cargo base, and we're off to a good start with that," Newsome said. "There's a lot of opportunity in the market — a lot going on. We just have to mobilize and focus ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities."

At the same time, the SPA is moving forward with several capital projects designed to better accommodate planned increases in cargo. The agency's inland port in Dillon will open in April, with cargo to be moved between the Interstate 95 hub and Charleston by CSX freight trains. A project to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet will start in February.

Work also continues on a new container terminal in North Charleston, a refurbished wharf at Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant and a new headquarters building for the agency. The SPA has spent about half of a record $262.3 million budgeted for capital expenses this fiscal year.

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