Is it time for East Coast seaports to get bigger ship ready?
Maritime facilities from New York to Miami — including the Port of Charleston — have been spending billions of dollars in recent years on deeper harbors, supersized cranes and taller bridges to accommodate a class of ships capable of carrying 14,000 or more cargo containers at a time.
The so-called neo-Panamax vessels are calling more frequently on East Coast sites ever since the Panama Canal's expansion was completed more than a year ago. Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant is seeing one of those ships roughly every week and expects a second weekly visit by the end of this year.
But in the past few weeks, a pair of shipping lines have placed orders for even bigger vessels that can carry up to 22,000 cargo containers. Mediterranean Shipping Co. said last week it ordered 11 of the world's largest container ships. A week earlier, CMA CGM confirmed its own order for nine of the mega-vessels.
Those are the first orders in nearly two years for container ships that large, and they come on the heels of a rebound in first-half earnings — to an industry average of 1.1 percent — for most carriers compared with losses posted last year. By 2019, shipping analyst Alphaliner says there will be more than 100 of the ultra-large container vessels sailing routes between Asia and Europe.
The biggest container ship to visit the Port of Charleston to date has been the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, with a capacity of 14,855 cargo boxes. Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority has said he's confident an 18,000-container vessel could slip under the Ravenel Bridge and in and out the Port of Charleston depending on tide conditions.
But could a vessel carrying 22,000 cargo boxes — called 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, in maritime jargon — navigate Charleston Harbor?
"Whether we can handle a 22,000-TEU ship is uncertain, depending on vessel size and a variety of other factors," said SPA spokeswoman Erin Dhand.
She said the SPA's takeaway from the recent mega-ship orders is that the vessels carrying 22,000 boxes will take over Asia-to-Europe routes currently being handled by neo-Panamax ships. That will free up more of the "smaller" ships in the 13,000 to 14,000 cargo container range to visit East Coast ports.
While the SPA isn't sure whether a ship carrying 22,000 boxes could make it into Charleston's port, one thing is certain: The vessel would have to travel to the East Coast through the Suez Canal.
The Panama Canal is already too small for those bigger ships.
Good for business
South Carolina ranks No. 4 among the 50 states for having the best business climate, according to a new survey of U.S. corporate executives released last week.
The Palmetto State finished behind Texas, Florida and Georgia. North Carolina took the fifth spot. The top states were lauded for their pro-business environment, location, quality workforce and relatively low tax structure. California has the least favorable climate for business due to its tax and regulatory policies, according to the survey.
The survey, based on aggregate responses from 331 corporate executives, is conducted every three year by Development Counsellors International, an economic development marketing firm based in New York.
This year, the survey included for the first time findings about how the current U.S. political climate is impacting business. A majority of executives — 57 percent — reported that President Donald Trump's policies haven't impacted their investment plans. One-third of those surveyed said they are now more likely to explore expansion opportunities within the U.S.
Sixteen percent of executives named South Carolina as the best state for business, maintaining its ranking from the 2014 survey. South Carolina was ranked No. 3 in 2011 but failed to make the list in 2008.
Ian Williams, vice president and general manager of TIGHITCO Aerostructures, is the new chairman of the SC Aerospace Advisory Board. He succeeds Ranger Aerospace CEO Steve Townes, who has served as chairman since the board's inception in 2013.
Williams began his aerospace career in 1987 as an airframe mechanic and has served in upper management roles for more than 15 years. TIGHITCO, which specializes in aerospace parts made from composite materials and operates a plant in Palmetto Commerce Park, is a division of The Intertech Group Inc. of North Charleston.
The advisory panel is comprised of private-sector industry leaders representing aerospace-related firms. The board helps to guide initiatives in marketing and connecting South Carolina's aerospace cluster and identifies challenges and opportunities facing the industry.