Hapag Lloyd New York Express

Hapag Lloyd's New York Express is one of the shipping line's neo-Panamax vessels capable of carrying 13,000 or more cargo containers. The Alliance, a consortium of shipping lines including Hapag Lloyd, will bring a neo-Panamax ship to the Port of Charleston on a weekly route beginning in 2018. Provided/Hapag Lloyd

A year after the COSCO Development kicked off the State Ports Authority's big ship era, a second string of container vessels capable of carrying up to 14,000 cargo boxes is scheduled to begin regular visits to the Port of Charleston.

The Alliance, one of three shipping line consortia formed in the wake of industry consolidation, said this month it will add Charleston to a weekly East Coast port route using a "neo-Panamax" vessel — the largest type of ship that can fit through the recently expanded section of the Panama Canal. Other U.S. ports on the route include: New York, Savannah and Norfolk, Va.

The first ship on the route is scheduled to leave Asia in April, traversing the Suez Canal on its way to the East Coast by May. It's one of 33 services connecting 81 ports worldwide that The Alliance will roll out in the coming year.

"After one year of cooperation, we are proud to say that our services and the network improved significantly," alliance members said in a joint statement. "The business is well on track in operational terms and with the delivery of several new big ships we are able to serve our customers even better."

The shipping lines included in The Alliance are Hapag-Lloyd, Ocean Network Express and Yang Ming.

A second alliance, called the Ocean Alliance, has been bringing neo-Panamax vessels to Charleston since May, when the Development arrived. The Ocean Alliance includes the CMA CGM, APL, COSCO, China Shipping, OOCL and Evergreen shipping lines.

A third alliance made up of the MSC, Maersk, Hamburg Sud and Hyundai shipping lines has not yet scheduled a regular neo-Panamax service for Charleston.

Many of the world's largest shipping lines formed alliances over the past year to reduce costs by consolidating services and sharing vessels. The partnerships have helped shipping lines boost their financial performance by controlling rate fluctuations and space availability. Combined, the alliances handle nearly 80 percent of all cargo transported by ships.

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"The Ocean Alliance has been a fantastic success from a customer perspective since its launch last spring," Olivier Nivoix, senior vice president of the CMA CGM shipping line, said in a statement.

The Ocean Alliance will continue its neo-Panamax service to the Port of Charleston during the coming year, with ships including the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt — the largest container vessel to visit the port's Wando Welch Terminal with a capacity of more than 14,850 cargo containers.

The Ocean Alliance service helped the SPA move a record 1.2 million cargo boxes through its terminals in fiscal 2017, with the big ships accounting for about 10 percent of that amount.

About $2 billion worth of improvements are scheduled for the Port of Charleston in coming years to accommodate container vessels carrying as many as 18,000 cargo boxes, including a project starting in February to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet. A new container terminal and improvements at Wando Welch are also part of the SPA's capital improvement plan.

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