Bigger Charleston-bound ships push revenue higher at State Ports Authority

  • Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 8:56 a.m., Updated: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 6:09 p.m.
Longshoremen unload cargo from the APL Malaysia earlier this month at the State Ports Authority’s Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. (Paul Zoeller/Staff) Buy this photo

An incoming tide of bigger vessels ferrying more containers in and out of Charleston Harbor helped push revenue higher for the State Ports Authority.

Bulk up

Containerized goods make up most of the State Ports Authority’s business, but the agency also handles cargo that’s too large or unwieldy to fit neatly or efficiently into a metal box.

The Port of Georgetown handled 59,731 of “break-bulk” items in July, a nearly 70% increase from the same month last year. Its top commodities are cement, petroleum coke and steel.

In Charleston, the SPA loaded and off loaded 51,375 tons of noncontainerized cargo, a nearly 4% gain from July 2012. Shipments of steel, wire rod and other items at the Union Pier Terminal triggered the biggest gains, the agency said.

The maritime agency said Tuesday that operating revenue totaled $140.49 million for its fiscal year that ended June 30. That was up 7 percent from the previous 12 months but 3 percent short of expectations set by the board of directors.

The agency also reported $12.72 million in operating earnings, or a net gain of $5.45 million from the previous fiscal year.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the SPA, said earnings remain a key factor for the agency, which is in the midst of a billion-dollar spending program that includes the construction of a new shipping terminal in North Charleston and improvements at existing terminals over the next decade.

“Given our aggressive capital investments over the next several years, it is essential to maintain a solid financial position and a steady stream of funds toward these important projects,” Newsome said.

The SPA previously reported that its Charleston-area operations handled the equivalent of about 1.56 million 20-foot-long containers in its last fiscal year, up 9 percent.

A total of 1,839 ships tied up at the agency’s docks last fiscal year for a net a gain of 94, or 5 percent.

The container volume growth was aided by new routes to areas such as Australia and New Zealand.

Hamburg Sud last year moved its only call at the Port of Savannah to Charleston to serve those countries.

On Tuesday, SPA officials also reported that the new fiscal year is already off to a strong start. Port of Charleston handled the equivalent of 136,159 20-foot containers last month, its strongest July since 2008.

Newsome also said the agency is making progress on the SPA’s “inland port” in Greer, despite roughly 60 days of rain. The first rubber-tired gantry crane arrived at the 100-acre intermodal site on Monday. The Upstate terminal will house three gantry cranes, which will be used to stack shipping containers.

Newsome said the rail-served inland port is scheduled to open in mid-October. Originally, it was to open in early September.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.

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