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Port of Savannah container moves jumped 48% in March

The East Coast port handled 498,000 TEUs last month as it tackled congestion

Savannah's Garden City terminal (Photo: GPA)

It’s definitely not just West Coast ports touting record after record. Georgia’s Port of Savannah just reported an all-time high: 498,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of container throughput in March, up 48% year on year.

Last month’s volume was also a big rise from the preceding month, 27% higher than February’s 390,804 TEUs.

The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA) has now handled 3.9 million TEUs in the first nine months of its fiscal year ending in June. It’s on track to top 5 million TEUs for the first time ever in a single fiscal year.

“Over the past six months, unprecedented volumes have crossed our docks,” affirmed GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch in a press statement.

Anchorages largely cleared

The lofty numbers in March came as the port was digging out from significant congestion. Fog closures of the river and vessel bunching due to weather issues up the East Coast in February forced many ships to anchor. At one point, over 20 container ships were stuck at anchor off Savannah in the first half of March.

By this month, the number of ships at anchor dropped to the single digits. On Friday, automated identification system (AIS) ship-position data showed three container ships at anchor.

Accelerated expansion plans

In an interview with American Shipper last month, Lynch explained, “We’re seeing volume this year we didn’t expect to see until 2025. So, what we’re doing now is advancing expansion plans we had targeted to happen over the next five years. We’re going to get them done sooner.”

The so-called Peak Capacity project will create 2,100 new grounded container slots, adding 650,000 TEUs in annual capacity in two phases, the first to be completed by September. A separate project will add 750,000 TEUs in capacity by 2023.

Garden City Terminal’s Berth 1 will be renovated — with a bend straightened out — to increase capacity by 1 million TEU per year by June 2021, bringing Garden City’s annual capacity up to 6 million TEUs.

The port is purchasing eight new, taller ship-to-shore (STS) cranes to arrive in 2023, replacing six older units and bringing the total in Savannah to 38 STS cranes. It’s also purchasing 20 new rubber-tired gantry (RTG) cranes that can reach stacks six containers high, one higher than its existing RTGs reach.

In addition, the second of nine new sets of working tracks will enter service this year at the Mason Mega Rail Terminal, upping GPA’s rail-lift capacity to 2 million TEUs per year.

The combined budget for all of the upgrades is over $100 million per year over the next three years. When the work is completed, Savannah’s container capacity will be increased by 20%. By 2023, the port will be able to handle four 15,000-TEU ships simultaneously.

The number of import shipment customs filings (irrespective of volume per shipment) through Savannah in 2021 year to date has far exceeded the numbers in 2020 and 2019. (Chart: FreightWaves SONAR. To learn more about FreightWaves SONAR, click here.)

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