Cargo Trends: The numbers are trending up at the Port of Charleston

Cargo Trends: The numbers are trending up at the Port of Charleston

LONG BEACH, October 20 South Carolina’s Port of Charleston is sparing no effort or investment to boost its containerized cargo throughput, a point stressed this week by newly appointed president and chief executive Barbara Melvin.

“We have made smart investments to expand and enhance operations, which has proven critical as we seamlessly handle bigger ships and record cargo volumes,” said Melvin, who emphasized that “we are boldly investing in port infrastructure to grow our port system.” 

Melvin said the port has just completed its most successful fiscal year ever, handling 2.85m teu in 2022, up 12% year-over-year. The port “efficiently moved 28% more containers per vessel in fiscal year 2022 on bigger ships carrying more cargo calling our marine terminals.”

The numbers add up

The port’s productivity figures for September further underscore Melvin’s remarks, with throughput of 226,807 teu for the month up 11% over the 205,008 teu in September 2021.

Meanwhile, according to Cargomatic calculations, its current year-to-date total of 2,103,012 teu is up 4.13% over the 2,019,610 teu for the same period a year ago.

Averaging 233,668 teu per month, the Port of Charleston is achieving numbers that could see it reach 2,804,016 teu by yearend, up 1.19% over the 2,751.442 teu put through in calendar year 2021, its previous high.

Numbers like these don’t come out of nowhere, and the port has achieved them through some very significant investments in recent years, with more planned for the near future.

Investments pay off

The Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the port’s recent development projects, a $2bn facility, capable of doubling port throughput capacity when fully built out.

Phase One of the Leatherman Terminal opened in March 2021, offering a 1,400-foot berth capable of handling one 20,000-teu vessel, five ship-to-shore cranes with 169 feet of lift height and 228 feet of outreach, and 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes.

The port plans two expansion projects for Leatherman, including the construction of two additional berths in 2028 and 2033, eventually boosting the terminal’s annual capacity to 2.4m teu.

Near-dock rail coming

Adding to the port’s future throughput capacity is a recently launched near-dock railroad project that’s scheduled to open in July 2025, a facility that will give the port a major competitive asset in its drive to secure more cargo.

The South Carolina State Ports Authority broke ground on the Navy Base Intermodal Facility in North Charleston where containers will be transferred to and from trains operated by Norfolk Southern and CSX Corp.

“This dual-served intermodal yard will greatly enhance our rail competitiveness,” Melvin said, adding that it “erases the last major competitive disadvantage that we had being a multi-terminal footprint.” 

The Navy Base Intermodal Facility will be supported by a new inner-harbor barge operation designed to move boxes between the port’s two container terminals – Wando Welch and Leatherman – along a designated marine highway. 

“The inner-harbor barge operation and innovative rail yard will add critical capacity to our port market,” Melvin said.

Deeper channels and chassis, too

The new developments are additional to the port’s current 11-year effort to deepen Charleston’s harbor and shipping channel to ease passage of the 20,000-teu vessels now regularly calling the East Coast ports with increasing imports from Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent.

“Deeper channels … seamlessly handle ships that are filled with large volumes of imports and exports,” said Melvin, who also highlighted a $200 million investment in a new chassis pool for truckers

More than 4,300 chassis are already on the road and the port’s “SMART Pool” will deploy 13,000 chassis into the Southeast port market through next spring. 

The investment was designed to help ease an equipment squeeze that has contributed to supply chain woes in the region over the past few years, Melvin said.

“We’re really continuing every day to notice the impact that it is having, this injection of new equipment into the Southeast and particularly … for our port customers,” Melvin said. 

“We have taken what has always been considered a utility for our industry and we have made it a competitive advantage,” she said.

 Photo: Port of Charleston’s Barbara Melvin. Credit: SCPA/English Purcell