Charleston currently ranks number nine among boxports in the US but under Jim Newsome, CEO and president of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA), plans are afoot to bring it much higher.
Last year the port managed 2m teu for the first time recording significant year-on-year growth.
“Such growth,” Newsome says, “is necessary for an organisation with a 10-year, $1.3bn capital plan to provide the capacity, technology and infrastructure required for handling the big ships being deployed in the industry today.”
SCPA’s container terminal under construction, called Leatherman Terminal, will increase the port’s container capacity by 50%. It’s currently the only new permitted container terminal under construction on the US. East or Gulf coast, and phase I is expected to be completed by 2020.
Over two years, SCPA is upgrading the structural support and fendering system of its biggest container terminal, the Wando Welch, in order to handle the frequency of bigger ships calling Charleston. SCPA also purchased two new super-post-panamax cranes for working bigger ships that are soon to be deployed to the east coast. Two more cranes of the same size are on order for delivery in December 2017.
A $525m effort, cost-shared by the state and federal governments, will deepen Charleston Harbor to -52 ft at mean low water in order to handle larger container ships without tidal restriction. Dredging is expected to begin later this year and be completed by 2020, making Charleston the deepest harbour on the east coast.
“For major US container ports,” Newsome says, “the two major challenges are to sustain and improve operating performance while making the large investments required to handle large ships and increasing volumes.”
Public ports, like SCPA, are integral to the US supply chain and will need to earn proper returns to maintain this investment thesis, Newsome concludes.