More cargo is flowing through the Port of Charleston, and March was the strongest month for volume since the last recession, officials reported Wednesday.
Incident at sea
High winds in Chesapeake Bay resulted in the collision of two cargo ships, including one scheduled to arrive at the Port of Charleston this weekend.
The Coast Guard reported the 751-foot-long bulk carrier Ornak collided with the 1,065-foot MSC Charleston on Tuesday about 7 p.m. The Ornak ran aground an hour later as winds gusted up to 70 mph.
No injuries, damage or pollution were reported, according to the Coast Guard.
The MSC Charleston was scheduled to arrive at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant on Saturday, but that could change because of the collision. As of Wednesday, the ship was safely anchored in the bay, according to MarineTraffic.com and media reports.
Staff and wire reports
The State Ports Authority said it handled 85,616 containers of all sizes in March, marking its single busiest month since August 2008.
Volume was up 16 percent from February and 11 percent from March 2013.
"The port continues to grow above the market average," the SPA said in a statement.
It's also looking later this year at raising rates it charges shippers, a move that CEO Jim Newsome acknowledged comes at a time when customers are looking hard at their "bottom lines."
"We invest a lot of money to have the capabilities to handle these big ships, and we need to charge more for that service," Newsome said.
He added that the SPA remains competitive and is less costly than places like Norfolk, Va., or New York City.
"If you compare them, we are three figures cheaper in the Southeast ports than the Northeast ports, and it's a good value for the money here," Newsome said. "That's due to the competitive situation here, but we think we can achieve something with that as background."
Commenting on the newly released March numbers, Newsome attributed the performance to the improving economy, which, in turn, drives demand for port services.
"I would love to be able to say there was some magic reason. ... The reality is ... we don't totally know how to explain it, but it is typically a strong month and it was stronger this time," he said.
The SPA has handled a total of 692,338 containers of all sizes through the first eight months of its fiscal year, up nearly 5 percent.
The increase helped push revenue for the fiscal year to $116.7 million, a nearly 14 percent increase from the corresponding year-earlier period. It was nearly 3 percent above the goal set by the SPA board.
Newsome added that the cargo growth should continue through the remainder of the year, especially in the noncontainerized sector. The SPA has been actively courting shippers of so-called breakbulk cargo to increase activity at the Union Pier Terminal in Charleston.
The port board on Wednesday also approved the $4.1 million purchase of 11 container handlers to replace aging equipment at the Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals. The new handlers will be able to pick up heavier shipments and stack them higher.