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Port of Savannah exports up, total cargo volume down

January container handling declines 11.5% year over year

While exports at the Port of Savannah were up 21% year over year, total January volume fell 11.5%. (Photo: Georgia Ports Authority)

The Georgia Ports Authority on Wednesday mixed good and not-so-good news, touting a 21% year-over-year increase in exports as its headline figure in the January volumes report and following that with the concession that total cargo throughput decreased 11.5%.

The GPA said it handled 421,714 twenty-foot equivalent units in January, 55,000 fewer containers than in the first month of 2022. But it noted the 2023 total was 11.7% more than the pre-pandemic volume of 377,671 TEUs in January 2020.

“The decrease was fueled in part by reduced orders in retail and manufacturing, resulting in import loads softening by 39,850 TEUs, or 16 percent,” the GPA news release said. “Similarly, the export of empty containers via Savannah declined 34,650 TEUs on reduced demand for Asian goods served by the empty boxes.”

The GPA said weather also played a role, delaying six vessels slated to call Savannah in late January to early February. 

Still, the East Coast port fared better than at least one West Coast counterpart. The Port of Long Beach reported earlier this week it had a 28.4% year-over-year (y/y) drop in January container volume. The Port of Los Angeles will report its January numbers Thursday. 

The Port of Savannah in January moved 110,305 TEUs of exports, a y/y increase of 11,419 TEUs.

“We’re excited to support a strong month for American farms and factories at the Port of Savannah,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said. “We achieved particularly robust growth last month in export trade lanes to Europe and the Mediterranean.” 

Board Chairman Joel Wooten said the GPA is taking advantage of the reduced port activity to make progress on infrastructure projects

“Being prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise requires steady leadership and an eye toward long-term trends,” Wooten said. “Our board’s commitment to constant infrastructure improvement, even during down times, means our customers have a ready partner in growth when they need to expand their Georgia operations.” 

The GPA said a project to enable Garden City Terminal Berth 1 to serve larger vessels is now 80% complete. The first four of eight massive cranes slated to work Berth 1 arrived last week. 

When the Berth 1 improvements are finished in July, the Port of Savannah will be able to simultaneously serve four vessels capable of carrying more than 16,000 TEUs as well as three additional ships, the GPA said. The enhancements will add 1.5 million TEUs of annual berth capacity. 

Now 20% complete, a project at Garden City Terminal West will provide 90 acres of new storage, supported by 15 electric rubber-tired gantry cranes. The GPA said the Garden City Terminal West project will add 1 million TEUs of annual capacity and come online in phases this year and next. 

The GPA said January trade in vehicles and heavy machinery at the Port of Brunswick was up 9% y/y to 57,127 units. For the fiscal year to date, volume at the Port of Brunswick is up 16.7% over the prior-year period to more than 352,000 roll-on/roll-off units.

Construction has started on 350,000 square feet of near-dock warehousing that will serve auto processing at the Port of Brunswick Colonel’s Island Terminal. The project includes construction of three buildings and 85 acres of auto storage on the south side of the island. The expansion will grow annual capacity in Brunswick from 1.2 million to 1.4 million units of ro/ro cargo, the GPA said.

The GPA in 2022 handled 5.9 million TEUs — more containers than ever before and a 5% increase over ’21. 

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

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Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.