South Carolina Ports sees signs of economic recovery

The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) sees the cars parked at its terminal as a drive toward pre-coronavirus days.

The SCPA said its busiest July ever for vehicles handled shows its strength in the roll-on/roll-off vessel sector and signals “a return to normalcy at automotive plants throughout South Carolina and the Southeast.”

The SCPA said it moved 25,128 vehicles, a 47% year-over-year increase, at the Port of Charleston’s Columbus Street Terminal in July.

“We are encouraged by some signs of an initial rebound in our container and automotive volumes, as well as an increase in imports and a decline in blank sailings,” SCPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said. “However, a more substantial recovery is dependent on the duration and intensity of the economic impacts from the pandemic and, ultimately, on a vaccine. We are hopeful for a stronger rebound throughout fiscal year 2021.”

South Carolina Ports’ fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.

The SCPA has been notified of five more blank — or canceled — sailings, all from Northern Europe, to come this year. That will make a total of 70 voided calls in South Carolina in 2020. 

The SCPA said although it is seeing signs of a moderate economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, volumes remain down year-over-year. It said a total of 176,974 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) were handled at the Wando Welch and North Charleston container terminals in July, but it did not provide figures for the prior month or year. 

A look at a previous report showed the two terminals handled 210,542 TEUs in July 2019. It was hailed as the port’s busiest July in history and up 5% from the previous year.  

South Carolina Ports said it moved 99,431 pier containers — boxes of any size — in July. That’s up 12% from June but still down year-over-year. The 71,053 pier tons handled at the Port of Charleston in July was up 13% year-over-year.

Inland Port Greer reported 10,832 rail moves in July and Inland Port Dillon had 2,778. Again, the SCPA did not provide comparisons but had recorded 15,338 rail moves at Greer and 2,889 at Dillon in July 2019.

Newsome remains optimistic, noting this week that South Carolina Ports set record volumes nearly every month in 2019 and in the first two months of 2020 — before the pandemic derailed the global economy.

“I am confident that we will weather this uncertainty and come out stronger,” Newsome said. “We are a world-class port located in the booming Southeast market. We remain dedicated to providing excellent service and timely infrastructure to our customers.”

He noted that the SCPA had one of the biggest economic development wins in its history in July when Walmart announced plans to invest $220 million in a Dorchester County distribution center that will boost port volumes by 5%.

Other developments include the deepening of the Charleston Harbor to 52 feet and construction of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, which is on track to open in March. South Carolina Ports will be able to handle four 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously and accommodate a 19,000-TEU container ship if one were to visit the East Coast. 

The SCPA said in the July volume report this week that it has invested heavily to grow its footprint “and those efforts are coming to fruition this fiscal year.”

South Carolina Ports laying groundwork for larger ships

Michelin rolling out tire distribution through South Carolina inland port

South Carolina Ports volumes holding steady

Click for more American Shipper/FreightWaves stories by Kim Link-Wills.