Port of promise

Container volume has been on the rise this year at the Port of Charleston, where growth is outpacing that of rivals in Georgia and Virginia, the State Ports Authority says. (Staff/File)

New shipping services and an increase in volume as shipments were sped up because of the threat of a possible longshoremen’s union strike helped boost container volume at the Port of Charleston to the best quarterly numbers seen in years, officials said Tuesday.

“These gains are significant as they come in the face of a tepid global economy,” said S.C. State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome “The port will need to continue to expand its cargo base to make further progress.”

Tuesday’s report, which includes results from July through September, was the latest news highlighting what has been an upward trend in cargo volume at the state’s ports in recent years. The volume still pales in comparison to the boom in the years before the global economic crisis pinched shipping demand.

The SPA reported that it handled the equivalent of 400,492 20-foot-long containers for the quarter, up 13 percent from the year-earlier period. Volume for the calendar year to date was up 9 percent, the agency reported.

Newsome said South Carolina has “the fastest-growing port in our competitive set,” outpacing rivals in Virginia and Georgia.

“We continue our aggressiveness in terms of growing our cargo base in spite of a weakening market,” Newsome said. “We’re growing mainly in the area of agricultural products, refrigerated cargo. ... We are in a very export-driven market, and that is the area of growth.”

New routes to areas like Australia and New Zealand helped boost shipments. Last month, Hamburg Sud, one of the world’s top-20 container shipping lines, pulled its only Georgia call from the Port of Savannah in favor of the Port of Charleston to serve those countries.

Newsome said the port has not been immune to the global economic crisis. For example, slowing demand among some European countries has pinched cargo flow and forced some carriers to idle vessels.

The quarterly report hinted to a possible uptick in shipping due to the lingering dispute between shipping companies and dock workers at ports along the East and Gulf coasts.

The SPA said its revenue was down $1.5 million, or more than 4 percent, compared to projections for the quarter. At the same time, port expenses were down more than $1 million for the quarter, leaving the SPA about a half-million behind its budget projections.