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Ports of Charleston and Virginia see record container volumes in October

Both ports tout their capacity to handle calls

Cargo is moved from Inland Port Greer in South Carolina to the Port of Charleston via rail. (Photo: South Carolina Ports Authority/Craig Lee)

The East Coast ports of Charleston and Virginia both achieved container volume records in October, continuing a trend that has persisted through much of 2021.

October marks eight consecutive months of record volumes at Port of Charleston

The Port of Charleston experienced a monthly record for October for the number of twenty-foot equivalent units it handled, the South Carolina Ports (SC Ports) reported Wednesday. October’s volume of 234,923 TEUs handled at Wando Welch Terminal, North Charleston Terminal and Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal marks the eighth consecutive month of record volumes at the port and is a 9% increase year-over-year.

Fiscal-year-to-date, SC Ports has handled 919,440 TEUs of containers since July 1, a 15% increase from the same period last year. 

“SC Ports provides capacity, fluidity and predictability for retailers as record retail imports flow into the Port of Charleston,” SC Ports CEO Jim Newsome said. “SC Ports has invested more than $2 billion in port infrastructure in recent years to ensure supply chain fluidity for our customers.”

Of October volumes, SC Ports handled 130,417 pier containers, which means boxes of any size, a nearly 9% gain from October 2020. Loaded imports, meanwhile, rose 12%, to 107,773 TEUs.

In particular, furniture imports rose 55% year-over-year, while vehicles were up 5%, to 21,740 vehicles.

SC Ports touted its berth availability as one asset that is attractive to new calls and businesses at the Port of Charleston. The port authority said that Wan Hai Lines announced plans to begin calling on Charleston as part of a network expansion between Asia and the North American East Coast. 

Meanwhile, at SC Ports’ two rail-served inland ports, Port Greer reported a record 14,189 rail moves in October, up 10% from 12,935 a year ago, while Inland Port Dillon reported 2,435 rail moves, down nearly 30% from 3,469 rail moves a year ago.

Two ship-to-shore cranes also recently arrived at the Wando Welch Terminal, completing a fleet of 15 new cranes that will help the port load and unload containers.

“Our new fleet of 15 impressive ship-to-shore cranes enables SC Ports to handle three 14,000-TEU container ships at one time at Wando Welch Terminal,” Newsome said. “Combined with the additional berth at the new Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, SC Ports can now seamlessly handle four 14,000-TEU container ships simultaneously.”

Port of Virginia processes record cargo volume in October

The Port of Virginia at Norfolk said October volumes of more than 318,000 TEUs is a new single-month volume record.

The port processed 318,482 TEUs in October, up 16.1% from a year ago.

“This is a strong run of volume, and our operation, the team behind it and our labor partners are performing at a very high level,” said Stephen A. Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. “We are handling record volumes with no congestion issues. The productivity at our berths, gates and rail ramps is exceptional right now, and we are delivering real value to our customers and the cargo owners choosing the Port of Virginia.”

The Virginia Port Authority attributed the gain to a volume surge in loaded imports and exports. The port said that since August, it has processed 444,600 loaded import TEUs, a 19% gain from the same period in 2020, and it processed 254,600 loaded export TEUs, a nearly 9% gain from a year ago. 

In October, loaded import TEUs were up 12.5%, to 148,212 TEUs, while loaded export TEUs were up 6%, to 88,710 TEUs.

Although the number of containers it handled at the Virginia Inland Port fell 5.9%, to 2,588, in October, the number of rail containers the port handled rose 19%, to 55,472, while the total of truck containers the port handled rose by 17.3%, to 114,514. The number of barge containers that the port handled rose by 28.3%, to 6,978.

“We are growing in multiple areas, and the key to continuing this trend is to emphasize delivery of service and market the port for all of its capabilities,” Edwards said. “There is no congestion here, and the industry is taking note of our effort to ensure consistency across the operation.”

Since January, the port’s year-to-date volume is 2.9 million TEUs, a 28% gain from the same period in 2020. Since the start of the fiscal year in July, total TEU volume is 23% higher, at 1.22 million. 

“We don’t foresee a slowdown because the long-term challenges to the supply chain are going to be there for some time,” Edwards said. “What we are seeing are more and more cargo owners working with their ocean carriers to diversify their supply chains, and the Port of Virginia is very high on their list of considerations. Our goal is to exceed their expectations, maintain our efficiency and demonstrate to them the value of doing business here.”

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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.