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New trade route to Charleston port aims to ease supply chain congestion

OOCL Chongqing (copy)

The OOCL Chongqing container ship visits the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. OOCL said it will offer a new route Charleston that bypasses congested ports in China and the U.S. West Coast. File/English Purcell/State Ports Authority/Provided

One of the world's largest container shipping lines hopes to unclog sluggish supply chains with a new trans-Atlantic route to Charleston that bypasses choke points in China and the U.S. West Coast.

Orient Overseas Container Line said the plan will give shippers an alternative to using Chinese seaports that have been plagued by overcrowding and coronavirus-related shutdowns. Instead of leaving China by sea, goods will be loaded onto a freight train and sent to a port in Germany. From there, the cargo will be put on container ships bound for Charleston and other U.S. East Coast destinations.

The route will also help crews avoid potential delays at the Panama Canal —  as well as the need to anchor and wait off the California coast for a spot in line.

"The intention is to provide reliable and timely shipment by seizing the opportunity to avoid the current high levels of traffic seen on routes to the U.S. West Coast and through the Panama Canal," OOCL said in a statement.  

A surge of consumer goods shipped to the U.S. during the pandemic has created long backlogs at Asian ports and skyrocketing costs for space aboard vessels leaving China.

In response, "carriers are getting creative," Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the S.C. State Ports Authority.

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"This seems to be an innovative offering from OOCL Logistics that is designed to significantly cut down on transit time by routing containers from China to Europe, and then to the U.S. East Coast, including to the Port of Charleston, using a reliable trans-Atlantic trade route," he said in a written statement 

The shipping line estimated its new land-and-sea route will take between five and six weeks for cargo to reach the East Coast from China, compared to 12 or 13 weeks for a West Coast-bound ship.

OOCL plans to include stops in New York and Savannah. The first ship on the new route is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in early September.

Newsome of the SPA said the route is part of a trend of more cargo being sent to East Coast ports because of delays at their West Coast counterparts. Dozens of container ships are regularly anchored in the waters off California each day because of overcapacity at the Golden State's huge port system.

"We expect that the trend of more cargo coming back to the East Coast will continue as carriers seek to take advantage of (Charleston's) berth and terminal availability for ships and cargo," Newsome said.

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

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