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South Carolina Ports volumes holding steady

Fiscal year total down just 2.8% during unsteady global trade market

The South Carolina Ports Authority says volumes remained steady despite the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: SCPA/English Purcell)

The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) said it finished fiscal year 2020 with “relatively steady volumes” despite waves of canceled sailings and supply chain disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The SCPA finished the fiscal year with 2.32 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) handled at the Wando Welch and North Charleston container terminals. That’s down 2.8% from fiscal year 2019.

The SCPA’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. It said the first eight months of the 2020 fiscal year, from July 1, 2019, through Feb. 29 of this year, were very strong and it was on track to achieve yet another record fiscal year until the pandemic hit, wreaking havoc with global supply chains and business operations. 

“If you look through February of our fiscal year, which was eight months, we were 25,000 containers ahead of our plan, a record pace,” SCPA President and CEO Jim Newsome said last month. “We were headed easily to $100 million cash flow. And then China really never came back from Chinese New Year for six weeks and then the Western world shut down due to the pandemic.”

Blanked — or canceled — sailings have negatively affected volumes at ports across the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. South Carolina’s ports are no different, with 58 blanked sailings reported this calendar year between Jan. 1 and June 30. An additional 14 blanked sailings have been announced for July 1 onward.  

“The pandemic impacted businesses across the board and our volumes reflect that,” Newsome said this week.

The Port of Charleston did have modest growth for vehicles and pier tons, the SCPA said. The port handled 640,929 pier tons in fiscal year 2020, up 2.5% from the prior year, and saw 199,825 vehicles, an increase of 2.5% year-over-year, roll across the docks of Columbus Street Terminal.

The SCPA said vehicle volumes started to rebound in June, after many automotive manufacturing plants resumed operations in May. 

“We hope to see continued recovery as we begin fiscal year 2021,” Newsome said. “We have an incredibly well-run port located in the thriving Southeast market. We plan to continue growing and diversifying our cargo base with retail goods imports and transload exports such as forest products and agricultural goods.”

The SCPA said its two inland ports provide companies with a same-day rail connection to the Port of Charleston. Inland Port Dillon achieved its highest fiscal-year volume on record with 32,453 rail moves, up 9.7%. Inland Port Dillon also had its best June yet with 2,696 rail moves last month. 

Inland Port Greer’s total of 140,155 rail moves, however, was down 2.1% from the previous fiscal year, the SCPA said.

Still, the inland ports are “an excellent success story,” SCPA Chief Operating Officer Barbara Melvin said. “The inland ports provide crucial speed to market for cargo owners. Inland Port Greer and Inland Port Dillon also extend our reach beyond the waterfront, ensuring we are a port for the entire state.”

The ports continue to attract new business to the region, Melvin said. First Solar is building its East Coast distribution hub in Greenville, South Carolina, and moving cargo through Inland Port Greer and the Port of Charleston. Frontier Logistics and A&R Logistics are building resin export facilities that are expected to open this year. 

Newsome said amid great economic challenges, the SCPA remains focused on growing cargo volumes and bringing new infrastructure online.

“We have positioned ourselves well for future growth as we prepare to open our state-of-the-art container terminal, the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, this fiscal year,” he said.

The SCPA last month adopted a $319 million capital spending plan for fiscal year 2021. Most of the capital improvement funds will be used to complete the first phase of construction of the Leatherman Terminal, which is set to open in March. 

The first phase includes a 1,400-foot wharf, five ship-to-shore cranes with 169 feet of lift height and 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes as well as the ability to handle vessels with a capacity of 19,000 TEUs. By 2030, when fully opened, the terminal will provide the SCPA an additional 2.4 million TEUs of capacity.

“I look to our future with great energy and optimism,” Newsome said.

Capital improvement funds allocated for South Carolina terminal

South Carolina ports were on record pace before pandemic

South Carolina ports, inland terminals report record February

Click for more FreightWaves/American Shipper articles by 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.