November 13, 2017 1:00 PM, EST

Three East Coast Ports Handle Record Cargo Volumes in October

Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal Port of Savannah's Garden City Terminal by Georgia Ports via YouTube

Three major East Coast ports shattered records for container volume in October, another sign that 2017 has been a strong year in the ocean freight industry.

The Port of Savannah, which ranks No. 4 in North America based on volume, moved 410,000 industry-standard 20-foot-equivalent container units, or TEUs, last month.

It marked the first time in the port’s history that it topped 400,000 TEUs in a month and represented a 32% surge in traffic from October 2016.

“Since the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, Garden City Terminal has experienced meteoric growth,” Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch said. “We’re now handling more ships, bigger vessels and larger cargo exchanges. By working more weekly vessel calls than any other East Coast port, and serving more Neopanamax ships than any other port in the U.S. Southeast, Savannah has strengthened its position as a vital gateway to the global marketplace.”

Container traffic through October has jumped 25% year-over-year to 3.4 million TEUs. The port has surpassed its 2016 levels each month this year and hasn’t processed fewer than 300,000 TEUs in a month for the first time.

Last year, Savannah ended up moving 3.6 million TEUs.

Lynch also promoted the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, which will deepen the Savannah River channel from 42 feet to 47. Work is due to be completed in 2020. Dredging in the outer harbor is 60% complete, while work on other aspects of the project are 35% finished, Lynch said.

Georgia lawmakers appropriated $266 million to the project, while the federal government has contributed $127.8 million. The price tag is expected to be $973 million.

“With deeper water, today’s 14,000-TEU ships will be able to transit the Savannah River with greater scheduling flexibility, and take on heavier export loads,” Lynch said. “Because these larger vessels provide lower cost-per-container slot, they help make American farms and factories more competitive.”

The Port of Virginia, No. 7, processed 265,490 TEUs in October, a record for any month in the Old Dominion. It also was an 11% increase in container traffic from October 2016.

“To process that amount of volume in a month — 127,000 imports and nearly 139,000 export container loads — and do so safely and with efficiency is testament to the high level at which the Port of Virginia team and our labor partners are performing,” Virginia Port Authority CEO John Reinhart said. “The berth, gate, rail and barge operations are all flowing. Our strategic growth plan is firing on all cylinders. We continue to move containers more swiftly, safely and sustainably than ever before.”

Container volume has grown 7.9% to 2.4 million TEUs in the first 10 months of the year versus last year. The port handled 2.7 million TEUs for all of 2016.

Reinhart also said that work to expand the Virginia International Gateway terminal remains on schedule. The first rail-mounted gantry cranes are expected to be delivered in January and operational in late April.

The $320 million project will double the throughput of Virginia International Gateway to 1.2 million containers annually. Part of the work includes purchasing four ship-to-shore cranes to handle megavessels of 18,000 TEUs, although the Panama Canal cannot handle ones greater than 14,000.

An expansion project at the Norfolk International Terminals facility also will boost its capacity and add automated container yard cranes similar to those in use for years at the Virginia International Gateway.

“We know that next year, as we get into heavy construction at Norfolk International Terminals and the first phases of VIG go live, the industry and cargo owners will be watching," Reinhart said. "We continue to plan to ensure that we process volumes safely, efficiently and consistently while focusing on mitigating any adverse impacts on the operation as construction progresses.”

The Port of Charleston, No. 11, processed 184,804 TEUs last month, a new October record.

“Container growth in October was broad-based across multiple segments, with particular strength of export loaded containers,” South Carolina Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said. “All indicators are that the U.S. port market will continue to grow, based on good performance of the global economy. We look forward to the addition of container volume from major manufacturing operations such as Volvo Cars, Samsung Electronics and Mercedes Vans going into 2018.”

Inland Port Greer had its strongest October since the facility opened in November 2013, with 11,773 rail moves.

The Port of Charleston has processed 1.8 million TEUs through October, an 11% increase from the same 10 months in 2016.