The Port of Charleston's container volume made a considerable comeback during the first half of this year, climbing 19 percent, the State Ports Authority announced Thursday.

June alone saw a 34 percent increase in containerized cargo traffic, marking the fourth- consecutive month of double-digit growth. The SPA ended its most recent financial year on June 30 ahead of budgeted volume.

Officials expect that upward trend to moderate as the year progresses, but they still project a 7 percent increase in container volume and a more-than-50 percent increase in non-containerized cargo in the current financial year, which ends June 30, 2011.

They attribute the growth, in part, to three new shipping services added in recent months.

But that good news came on the heels of losing 10 other shipping services during the economic recession. The SPA trimmed its workforce by 71 employees to help compensate for its losses.

The agency plans to invest nearly $77 million this financial year on terminal improvements, including moving forward with its new container terminal at the former Charleston Navy base in North Charleston and its revamped cruise-passenger terminal downtown.

SPA officials also announced Thursday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to proceed to the next phase in its harbor-deepening studies.

That federal interest in dredging beyond the port's 45-foot depth becomes more and more critical as the Panama Canal's 2014 reopening approaches, bringing with it larger ships calling local docks.

The largest container ship to ever call at the Port of Charleston, the MSC Rita, pulled into Wando Welch Terminal for the first time in February. The vessel, which measures 1,065 feet in length and can carry up to 8,085 20-foot shipping boxes, revisited the port earlier this week.

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or