Tugs assist a CMA CGM containership to its berth at the Port of Savannah

Photo courtesy Georgia Ports Authority

Port of Savannah Backup Swells as Shifting Trade and Ad Hoc Services Contribute to Cargo Surge

Mike Schuler
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July 26, 2022

Port of Savannah’s ship backup continues to build as a shift in vessel calls from the West Coast, Charleston diversions, and growing number of ad hoc and new services led the port to its busiest June on record.

Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) reported record cargo volumes in June at the Port of Savannah, the second-busiest port on the East Coast and fastest-growing in the nation. June’s volumes close out Savannah’s fiscal year with 5.76 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEU), up 8 percent compared to FY2021.

The Port of Savannah experienced a record June, handling 494,107 TEUs, up 10.6 percent or 47,300 TEUs compared to the same month last year. June’s cargo volumes follow Savannah’s busiest month ever in May and third-busiest month on record in April.

“As the hub in a global network of road, rail and ocean carrier connections, our ports link Georgia businesses to international trade lanes and open doors to prosperity for our state and nation,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. “The Georgia Ports Authority and its partners in the logistics industry are powerful drivers for local economies across the Peach State, from small communities to our thriving urban centers.”

The port authority said that in addition to organic growth, Savannah trade has also been boosted by West Coast labor talks and delayed access to rail at West Coast ports, prompting a significant shift in vessel calls. It is also receiving container trade diverted from the Port of Charleston.

Ship Backup

GPA said it is currently handling the highest volume of ad hoc and new service vessels the Port of Savannah has experienced to date. “Uncertainty around the labor talks, unprecedented and unplanned vessel calls, record cargo volume, and vessel diversions to Savannah have contributed to a higher than normal number of vessels waiting at anchor,” the GPA said in its update.

The backup of ships waiting at anchor off Savannah has swelled in recent months, growing from the single digits in May to 43 currently, surpassing last September’s record number before the GPA took steps to alleviate congestion. By February the backup was eliminated.

“Despite the record volumes, the Port of Savannah remains fluid,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “Several factors have contributed to our growing container capacity, including expedited infrastructure projects, our inland pop-up yards and an influx of truck drivers moving to the Southeast.”

GPA is also reporting record truck turns during both its day and night-gate operations. Garden City Terminal saw a weekday average of 14,500 truck moves in June, counting both inbound and outbound gate exchanges.

To better accommodate rising demand, the GPA recruited 166 new workers in FY2022, for a total of 1,647 direct employees.

“I would like to thank our employees, as well as our partners at Gateway Terminals and the International Longshoremen’s Association for their outstanding work to keep commerce flowing across our docks,” Lynch said. “Through communication, collaboration and teamwork, we continue to provide unmatched service to our mutual customers.”

The Port of Savannah continues to target capacity growth of 60 percent in the coming years, from 6 million TEUs in 2021 to up to 9.5 million TEUs by 2025. In 2021, the Port of Savannah blew past the 5 million TEU mark (5.6 million TEU, to be exact) for the first time in its history, handling about 20% more containers than it did in 2020.

At its regular July meeting, the GPA Board approved $30.25 million for the purchase of 12 new rubber-tired gantry cranes and other container handling equipment. The Port of Savannah already features 198 RTGs, and another 24 were already on order. The latest order will bring the fleet to 234 in Savannah.

“Growing our workforce and infrastructure is part of the Board’s continuing commitment to keep our deepwater terminals ready to take on new trade,” said GPA Board Chairman Joel Wooten. “Presently, we are expanding our dock space to handle additional big ships and increasing our container storage space in Savannah, while simultaneously enhancing our capabilities to move autos and breakbulk in Brunswick.”

Exports

Looking at exports, in FY2022 export loads accounted for 1.32 million TEUs for GPA, compared to 2.86 million import loads. Top exports included forest products, kaolin clay and automotive cargo. Top import commodities included furniture, machinery and plastic goods, the GPA said.

In addition to increased container trade, breakbulk tonnage also saw strong growth in FY2022, up 15.7 percent to more than 3 million tons. Mayor’s Point Terminal in Brunswick turned in a particularly strong performance, with breakbulk forest products leaping from 52,244 tons in FY2021 to 252,000 tons in the fiscal year ended June 30.

“Much of the increase in breakbulk cargo crossing GPA docks is related to the relatively lower cost of breakbulk movement compared to container rates in today’s market,” Lynch said.

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