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Charleston port keeps setting records as consumers keep buying online

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Wando terminal aerial (copy)

The Port of Charleston handled 207,066 cargo containers in November — a record for the month. The majority came through the Wando Welch Terminal (above) in Mount Pleasant. File/Staff

Homebound consumers buying goods from online retailers continue to lift cargo levels at the Port of Charleston, which last month set a record for the number of cargo containers handled during November.

The 207,066 cargo boxes that moved through the local waterfront broke the November record set in 2018 by more than 18,000 and topped the year-ago total by 12 percent, pushing the port past the 1-million container mark five months into the fiscal year.

The port, which also set a cargo record in September, has now regained nearly all of the volume it lost when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading through the U.S. in the spring.

Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the State Ports Authority, called November "a truly remarkable month," pointing to strong results in vehicle exports and at its inland transportation hubs in Greer and Dillon as well as containerized cargo.

"South Carolina Ports is well-positioned to handle increasing cargo volumes brought on by both the ongoing recovery and the booming Southeast market," Newsome said in a statement.

He added that the maritime agency's $2 billion investment in equipment and infrastructure, including the new Leatherman Terminal opening in March, "are coming online at the right time."

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The number of loaded import boxes outpaced loaded exports by nearly one-third last month, with the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant handling more than 83 percent of the volume. Vehicle exports, mostly BMWs built at the German automaker's plant in Spartanburg County, totaled 18,933 in November. The number of cars sent to foreign markets is up nearly 10 percent this fiscal year, which started July 1.

The SPA's inland ports saw double-digit increases in November with cargo up 20 percent in Greer and 28 percent along the Interstate 95 corridor in Dillon.

Major seaports across the country have seen a surge in cargo leading up to the holiday shopping season and some industry experts say that will extend into next year. Much of that has been driven by the increase in e-commerce, with online sales up 36.7 percent from last year, according to the Census Bureau.

"Volume started really coming back from August," Rolf Habben Jansen, president of German shipping line Hapag-Lloyd, told the Los Angeles Times. "From everything we see now, it looks like the market is going to remain pretty strong until at least Chinese New Year in mid-February."

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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