By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOT
Officials at the South Carolina State Port Authority (SCSPA) have a reason to feel optimistic about business at the Port of Charleston. Statistics show that March was the third straight month of year-over-year container volume increases for the port with pier containers up 24.4 percent compared to the same month last year.
March volume was also 11.3 percent higher than the February 2010 volume of pier containers at Charleston’s three container terminals.
“These volume gains are encouraging and significant,” says Jim Newsome, SCSPA president and CEO.
Newsome attributes the growth to restocking of inventories, export market growth efforts, and the SCSPA’s aggressive new business development.
“As ocean carriers look to enhance or start new services, Charleston is firmly on their radar screen,” Newsome says.
SCSPA officials feel confident that the trend will continue. In fact, they expect growth in the second quarter to be above the same quarter last year and that Charleston’s volume will continue to improve.
“However, U.S. trade still has a fair climb to make to recover volume lost over the past two years,” comments Byron Miller, SCSPA spokesman. “Exports are going gangbusters right now. Imports showed some sustained strength in April, and the SCSPA will continue to watch consumer spending closely.”
Economists also will be closely watching both consumer and business spending trends over the next six to 12 months. As many project, the world economy is not out of the woods yet. One only has to consider the impact of the potential crisis of the euro in Europe to be reminded of this fact.
Another concern is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and what that might do to ship routings.
SCSPA officials are not aware of any impact as of yet, and have no word of any re-directed cargo to its port terminals. Miller does point out that, independent to the oil spill, a number of steamship lines have announced in recent months enhanced or new services to the Port of Charleston. Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) offers one such example.
In February, MSC’s “Golden Gate Service” (GGS) shifted its South Atlantic port to Charleston and made its inaugural Charleston call, linking the Southeast’s deepest seaport with China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Ships up to 8,400-TEU have called Charleston in the service, drawing up to 48 feet.
“The Port of Charleston and the entire state of South Carolina were proud to welcome the GGS service,” says Newsome. “Importers and exporters across the U.S. Southeast and Gulf region will benefit from additional connections into China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and India through Charleston.”
The GGS port rotation includes Shanghai, Ningbo, Chiwan and Yantian, China; Singapore; Salalah, Oman; Suez Canal transit; New York; Baltimore; Norfolk; Charleston; Freeport, Bahamas; Suez Canal transit; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Singapore; Chiwan; Hong Kong. Connecting services through the GGS offer extensive links to ports in India, the Red Sea and the Middle East. The service provides a 21-day transit time outbound from Charleston to Jeddah.
MSC attributes its decision to use the Port of Charleston to its 45-foot deep shipping channel at mean low water (MLW). This gives the port the deepest depths south of Norfolk on the U.S. East Coast. In fact, a five to six-foot tidal lift allows ships with up to 48 feet of draft to transit the harbor.
In addition, Miller stresses how the GGS also consolidates MSC’s already strong presence in the Port of Charleston and in the local community. “MSC already sends five additional ships a week to Charleston serving the western Mediterranean, South American, Caribbean, African and European trades,” he says.
Particularly significant is the fact that in 2009, MSC and the SCSPA signed a new five-year extension to the carrier’s contract, lengthening its commitment in Charleston to 2017. Last year, MSC also dedicated