Big ships drive port business up 9%

Mega-ships like the 1,065-foot-long MSC Rita, which was tied up at Wando Welch Terminal on April 1, are becoming an increasingly common sight at the Port of Charleston.

Stepped-up sales efforts and the arrival of larger vessels helped boost business at the State Ports Authority for April, a trend the maritime agency expects to continue, officials said Friday.

The SPA reported that its Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant and Veterans Terminal in North Charleston handled the equivalent of 134,718 20-foot-long shipping containers last month, up 9 percent compared to the same month a year ago and 17 percent above April 2011.

Jim Newsome, chief executive officer, said volume continues to grow because of new shipping services and more aggressive sales efforts.

The SPA reported $115.1 million in revenue for the first 10 months of its fiscal year, a 5.7 percent gain from the year-earlier period, but 4.6 percent below expectations.

Newsome has said one reason for the shortfall was discounted rates the SPA offered to entice shippers.

The Southeast is a highly competitive region as five port operations between Norfolk, Va., and Jacksonville, Fla., are battling for limited market share.

For the current fiscal year, which ends in July, container volume is up 10 percent compared to the same 10-month span a year ago, officials said.

The agency’s operations moved 1,295,717 20-foot-long containers during the past 10 months, compared to 1,178,843 units in the previous fiscal year.

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“With new service deployments beginning in June, and additional large vessels calling our port this month, we expect a solid finish to the fiscal year,” Newsome said.

The latest big container carrier to steam in Charleston Harbor was the 1,104-foot-long MSC ASYA, which set anchor Friday at the Wando Welch Terminal. The ASYA is among the “Post-Panamax” class of vessels that shippers are increasingly using as cost-saving strategy.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.