TRANS-ATLANTIC TRADE—Larger containerships enhance Charleston’s trans-Atlantic role

By: | at 08:00 PM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  Liner Shipping  

By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOTAs increasingly large containerships ply trans-Atlantic routes, officials of the South Carolina State Ports Authority are looking to further boost the Port of Charleston’s role in trade with Europe.
“Northern Europe is a tremendous part of our business, and we see it continuing to grow,” said Byron D. Miller, the SCSPA’s director of public relations.
A key factor in that growth appears to be Charleston’s position as first US inbound port and last US outbound port for Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s weekly trans-Atlantic service that deploys a half-dozen high-capacity container vessels on a rotation linking Northern Europe with US and Mexican ports.
European calls in this service are made at Antwerp, Felixstowe, Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Le Havre before the vessels steam across the Atlantic to Charleston, continuing on to MSC’s Bahamian transshipment hub at Freeport and South Florida’s Port Everglades, Veracruz, Altamira, Houston and New Orleans.
The post-Panamax MSC ships in this service, begun a year ago, each boast capacities of some 6,700 twenty-foot-equivalent container units (teus) – more than two times the capacity of many vessels in similar services.
For example, the weekly North Europe service of French carrier CMA-CGM and China Shipping Container Lines Co. Ltd. that was added at Charleston in April 2006 deploys four vessels of 2,600-teu capacity. The rotation of Le Havre, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Bremerhaven, Liverpool, New York, Baltimore, Norfolk and Charleston makes the South Carolina port its last US call before heading back to Europe.
In late December, MSC added the Port of Charleston as last US outbound call in a weekly service to the Mediterranean, deploying five ships, each with capacities averaging 3,000 teus.
“The potential is quite good in Charleston,” said Allen Clifford, executive vice president of MSC (USA). MSC, with more than 300 vessels worldwide, is the second-largest operator of containerships in the world.
South Carolina port officials point to Charleston’s navigational capabilities, growing contingent of dockside container cranes, and high port productivity as critical attributes.
According to Miller, the Port of Charleston can accommodate fully loaded vessels with drafts of as much as 45 to 46 feet. While trans-Atlantic vessels carry a full spectrum of containerized goods, Charleston’s spot as last US outbound port makes it particularly well suited to handle relatively dense commodities, such as forest and agricultural products.
In March the Port of Charleston took delivery of four more massive container cranes, bringing the port’s contingent to 21 such units. Future SCSPA plans include joint development with Georgia counterparts of a massive new port facility in Jasper County, on an 1,800 tract currently owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River.
From a productivity standpoint, according to Miller, the Port of Charleston safely operates its cranes at an average pace each of 40 moves per hour, runs its common-use container terminal yards at about 5,000 teus per acre and maintains mean trucker turn times at less than 20 minutes.
Miller said the Port of Charleston, with some 40 ocean carriers in the trade, already handles a 42% share of the Northern Europe commerce with US East Coast ports in the range from Virginia to South Florida. The Northern Europe market represents about one-third of the Port of Charleston’s total volume, he said.
“Charleston is uniquely positioned to handle the bigger ships in the North Atlantic and any trade,” according to Miller.
In fact, recent SCSPA marketing efforts have included an initiative to encourage another kind of trans-Atlantic trade – shipments from China westward through the Suez Canal, through the Mediterranean Sea and then across the Atlantic Ocean to Charleston.

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.