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American ShipperMaritimeNewsRail

Port of Savannah container capacity lift gets go-ahead

Approved projects come amid ‘unprecedented growth’ over past 6 months

Expect to see more containers come through the Port of Savannah.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) board approved projects that could bump up annual container capacity at the Port of Savannah by 20%. 

The port handled 4.7 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2020. Increasing capacity by 20% would put Savannah’s annual capacity at over 6 million TEUs.

2021 maritime import shipments at the Port of Savannah (blue line) are tracking well ahead of 2020, 2019 and 2018 levels (shows in green, orange and purple, respectively. (FreightWaves SONAR) To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.

Approving these capital projects comes at a time when Georgia’s container trade “has experienced unprecedented growth over the past six months,” according to the board. The categories seeing containerized cargo growth include machinery, appliances and electronics; hardware and houseware; food; furniture; apparel; and textiles. 

Not only will the projects help the port manage the sharp increase in demand being experienced now but will equip Savannah to take on additional business in the long term, the board said.

“Right now we are moving container volumes that we did not expect to see for another four years,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “Our employees are working very hard to ensure we continue to provide our customers with world-class service. Additionally, we are expediting capacity projects that will increase the speed and fluidity of cargo handling at the Port of Savannah.”

The approved initiatives include a peak capacity project with terminal enhancement to establish 2,100 new grounded container slots and add 650,000 TEUs of annual container yard capacity in two phases. The first phase will open in September.

Another project is a renovation of Berth 1, which will increase its capacity by an estimated 1 million TEUs per year by June 2023. By the end of this project, the Garden City Terminal will have 6 million TEUs in annual berth capacity.

Besides approving these projects, the GPA board on Monday OK’d the purchase of 20 new rubber-tired gantry cranes, which will be tall enough to stand over six stacked containers, GPA said. The higher cranes will enable additional capacity within the same terminal footprint, the port authority said.

Indeed, the approval of these projects on Monday is on top of other projects that the GPA board has recently given the green light for to expand port capacity. These include the purchase of eight new ship-to-shore cranes last November. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also been working to deepen Savannah’s harbor. The deepening should be completed substantially by the end of 2021.

And on Feb. 22, an expanded container operation came online at Savannah’s Ocean Terminal. The terminal now has an annual capacity of 250,000 TEUs.

The Port of Savannah moved 390,804 TEUs of cargo in February, a 7.2% increase from February 2020. In a six-month period that started in September 2020, the GPA handled 2.64 million TEUs, a 16.5% increase from the same period year-over-year. 

“In terms of cargo volumes, we’ve added the equivalent of an extra month of trade since September,” Lynch said.

Door-to-door intermodal spot rates to move 53’ domestic containers between Savannah and Chicago are 22% higher year-over-year. Rates include fuel surcharges. 2021 and 2020 rates are shown in blue and purple, respectively. (FreightWaves SONAR) To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.

With the higher cargo volumes come increased rail traffic. Intermodal lifts at the Garden City Terminal rose 12.6% year-over-year in February to approximately 77,500 TEUs, while the Appalachian Regional Port, an inland rail yard, had “its busiest Friday ever,” handling 4,955 TEUs of trade, GPA said.

According to GPA, the Port of Savannah handled 9.3% of total U.S. containerized cargo volume in 2020 and 10.5% of all U.S. containerized exports. 

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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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.

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