Georgia Ports Authority reaches cargo milestone

Shipping containers are loaded and unloaded at the Georgia Ports Authority's Garden City terminal in Savannah.

SAVANNAH - The Georgia Ports Authority has reached a milestone by breaking the 3 million container mark.

The authority announced the milestone Monday, and said that it moved more than 29 million tons of cargo and more than 700,000 auto and machinery units in fiscal year 2014.

It was the first time for the Port of Savannah to move more than 3 million containers - also known as 20-foot equivalent container units - in a fiscal year. The number was up by 6.3 percent compared to the previous year.

Earlier this month, S.C.'s State Ports Authority, a competitor, reported strong container volume in its fiscal year 2014. The agency reported its Charleston area terminals handled the equivalent of about 1.68 million 20-foot-long containers for the fiscal year that ended June 30, up 8 percent from the previous period.

The container growth was 2 percent more than the goal set by the agency's board of directors at the start of the fiscal year, officials have said.

As for the Port of Savannah, the container business has hovered above 2.9 million but stayed just short of 3 million for each of the past three fiscal years, which run July 1 to June 30.

Cargo containers loaded with everything from retail electronics to frozen chickens have made Savannah one of the busiest ports in the nation. Since 2006, Savannah has moved more containerized cargo than any U.S. port other than New York, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif. It was just eight years ago that Savannah surpassed 2 million containers and vaulted past Charleston, to become the fourth-busiest U.S. containerport.

Port officials said they fell short in fiscal 2013 because of the threat of an East Coast strike among dockworkers. No strike happened, but the threat caused shippers to divert some cargo to the West Coast.

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"Our ports' success is a win for us all, and a direct result of Georgia's commitment to the GPA and support for critical port infrastructure projects such as the harbor deepening and enhanced access to Interstate 95 and Interstate 16," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement.

"Georgia's deep-water terminals support jobs, investment and economic development in every county across the state," Deal added.

Tyrone Richardson of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.