A containership approaches its berth at the Port of Savannah

Photo courtesy Georgia Ports Authority

Port of Savannah Sets All-Time Record in May as Cargo Surge Continues

Mike Schuler
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June 15, 2022

The Port of Savannah, the second-busiest port on the East Coast, recorded an all-time cargo record in May as strong consumer demand and shifting inbound trade continued to drive record productivity at the port.

The Georgia Ports Authority reported Wednesday that Savannah moved an all-time high 519,390 TEU in May, breaking the previous record of 504,350 TEUs set in October 2021. May volumes grew by 8.5 percent, or 40,770 TEUs, compared to the same month last year.

“Despite global supply chain challenges, the Port of Savannah continues to be an economic driver, providing reliable, world-class service for port customers across our state and nation,” said Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch noted Garden City Terminal is handling more business during the current influx of trade than during the previous spike experienced last fall. The additional trade is driven in part by vessels diverting to Savannah from other East and West Coast ports, the GPA said.

“Strong consumer demand continues to drive higher volumes at the Port of Savannah,” Lynch said. “The infrastructure improvements and pop-up yards approved by the GPA Board have enabled our operations to maintain the flow of cargo across our terminal, despite unprecedented container volumes passing through the port.”

May’s cargo numbers follow the port’s third busiest month on record in April, when it handled just shy of 500,000 TEUs. Unfortunately, these higher volumes have caused the backup of ships waiting at the port’s anchorages to swell in recent weeks. The Georgia Ports Authority website showed 26 containerships waiting at anchor as of this morning, up from around just 3 ships waiting as of mid-May and approaching the levels experienced during peak congestion last Fall. Savannah also dodged a bullet this week after a large containership ran aground—and was later freed—on the Savannah River.

May’s cargo volumes highlight challenges the Biden Administration faces in reducing congestion and backlogs at ports that have pushed shipping freight rates higher throughout the pandemic, raising costs for American consumers and contributing to inflation. The recently-passed Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which gives the Federal Maritime Commission greater authority to regulate foreign ocean carriers’ practices and promote exports, is unlikely to help much as cargo volumes continue to exceed port capacity.

That’s not to say the Georgia Ports Authority has not making an effort. The GPA website says the Port of Savannah is the “single largest and fastest-growing container terminal in America.” In 2021, the port blew past the 5 million TEU mark (5.6 million TEU) for the first time in its history, handling about 20% more containers than it did in 2020. After last year’s record, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp called the port “an example to the nation in solving the supply chain crisis” for its efforts to reduce congestion by adding capacity by undertaking short and long-term projects and initiatives to tackle congestion, such as using “pop-up” container yards.

As of April, the port authority has added 900,000 TEUs of annual capacity to the Garden City Terminal, and another 300,000 are expected to come online in July for a new total of more than 7 million TEUs of container handling space.

Phase I of the Garden City Terminal West expansion has added a 25-acre container yard adjacent to the primary truck route approaching the main terminal. Phase II will add up to 1 million TEUs of annual capacity, which will begin coming online in 2023.

“By increasing container space at Garden City Terminal, GPA is accommodating the expansion in global commerce that supports job growth in Georgia,” said GPA Board Chairman Joel Wooten. “Industries from logistics to auto manufacturing, and agriculture to retail depend on Georgia’s ports for reliable supply chain solutions.”

The Port of Savannah completed 327,400 truck gate moves in May, counting loaded import and export containers, as well as the movement of empty chassis. Thanks in part to expanded night gate hours, the Garden City Terminal facilitated more than 15,000 truck moves between the hours of 7 and 11 p.m. last month, up from just over 10,000 in April. Another 48,000 containers (approximately 88,000 TEUs) moved by rail in May.

In addition to the container trade, GPA achieved a 28 percent increase in breakbulk cargo for the month. Breakbulk commodities including iron and steel, rubber, and forest products reached 320,722 tons in May, up 70,780 tons.

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