Empty boxes cause April dip in cargo, but port expects strong May Overall cargo down 7%; Charleston to see bigger ships as Panama Canal expands

The MSC Chicago container ship passes by Waterfront Park on its way to the Port of Charleston’s Wando Welch Terminal. The State Ports Authority said it set a record in January with nearly 105,000 cargo boxes moving through its container terminals. File/Staff

The Port of Charleston set a one-month record for containerized cargo in January, handling nearly 105,000 containers at its Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals, the State Ports Authority said Monday.

The SPA moved 104,792 boxes at its terminals last month, beating the previous record of 104,003 boxes moved during May 2015. Containerized cargo volumes increased 28 percent in January compared with the same month a year ago.

Through the first seven months of fiscal 2017, which started July 1, containerized cargo has increased by 8 percent compared to the year-ago period.

The milestone was announced hours before Gov. Henry McMaster said he is seeking more than $5 billion from President Donald Trump to pay for major infrastructure projects in the state, including the deepening of the Port of Charleston's shipping channel.

Local maritime officials have said the dredging work is needed in order to accommodate the longer, heavier cargo vessels that are expected to call on the East Coast in greater frequency now that the Panama Canal has been expanded. The three-year harbor deepening is expected to begin in late 2017. 

"We have already set aside $341 million ourselves, representing the state share of the total construction cost of $521 million," McMaster wrote Trump in a letter dated Monday. "Funding the federal share of $180 million complete the project." 

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Also on Monday, canal officials said the Central America waterway set a monthly tonnage record of 36.1 million tons with the transit of 1,260 ships through both the canal's original and expanded locks. the expanded and original locks. The previous record was established in December 2016, when 1,166 ships moved through the canal for a total of 35.4 million tons. 

"This increase reiterates the importance of the expanded canal, and it's further proof of the maritime industry’s continued confidence in the Panama Canal and the impact it will have on the future of global trade," Jorge Quijano, the canal's administrator, said in a statement.

Prior to the opening of the expanded canal in June, the monthly record stood at 30.4 million tons.

Through the first seven months of operations, more than 750 vessels have moved through the expanded canal that would not have been able to before the project. 

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