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July volumes at Georgia Ports Authority climb 18%

Loaded imports rebound to levels near May

The expansion project at Berth 1 of the Garden City Terminal at the Port of Savannah. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)

July volumes at the Georgia Ports Authority were 18% higher year over year, kicking off what the operator says is “the fastest start ever” for a new fiscal year.

GPA handled 530,800 twenty-foot equivalent units in July. The 2023 fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, 2023.

Since January, GPA has handled 3.4 million TEUs, which is 7% higher than the same period in 2021. 

July’s volume growth comes as East Coast and Gulf Coast ports have been seeing an increase in vessels as operators seek to divert traffic from congested West Coast ports. Uncertainties with labor at the West Coast ports may have also been a factor. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s contract with the ports expired June 30.

GPA experienced a dip in loaded imports at the Port of Savannah in June — May’s loaded imports totaled 253,508 TEUs — as vessels backed up off the East Coast. 

But loaded imports rebounded in July, boosting GPA’s overall volumes. July’s loaded imports of 251,761 TEUs represent the second highest month for that category since January. The figure is 6% higher than June’s 236,481 TEUs and 10% higher than July 2021’s 227,876 TEUs, according to GPA data.

“The Port of Savannah has clearly become a preferred East Coast gateway for shippers globally, including cargo diverted from the U.S. West Coast,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said in a news release.

While the amount of vessels waiting to dock may have eased from last month, that number remains in double digits. As of Tuesday morning, 40 vessels were at anchor waiting to dock at the Port of Savannah, according to its website.

Meanwhile, ship-position data from MarineTraffic from Tuesday morning reflects the backup. However, data can change by the hour as well as daily.

Vessels off the Georgia coastline as of Tuesday morning. (Map: MarineTraffic)

According to a Saturday operational update from vessel operator Hapag-Lloyd, waiting time for ships at anchor was 14 to 18 days.

GPA’s Lynch says the port has undertaken a number of initiatives to handle the increased traffic, including shifting operations to start two hours earlier to 4 a.m. EDT to better suit drivers’ needs. That time change became effective Aug. 1. 

In July, the Port of Savannah’s gate operations averaged 15,000 truck moves per weekday, GPA said. That figure includes both import and export transactions. 

Meanwhile, infrastructure projects to increase berth capacity are underway at the Port of Savannah. GPA ordered eight new ship-to-shore cranes, with four arriving in February. The remaining four will arrive by the end of 2023. A project to expand berth capacity by 1.4 million TEUs at the Garden City Terminal is 60% complete, while the Garden City Terminal West project will add 1 million TEUs of container yard capacity in 2023 and 2024.

GPA aims to grow annual berth capacity from 6 million to 7.5 million TEUs by 2023 and to 9 million TEUs by 2025.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.