Shipper to add to port use

Mediterranean Shipping Co., the world's second-largest container carrier, will begin a new weekly Asia service calling on the Port of Charleston in February.

The Golden Gate service through the Suez Canal includes 12 megaships ready for the expanded Panama Canal and is capable of handling more than 6,000 containers. MSC USA Executive Vice President Allen Clifford attributed the decision to the port's naturally deep waters.

"Charleston's deep, wide channels and excellent productivity make it a natural fit for this service," Clifford said in a statement. "MSC and our customers have enjoyed exponential growth in Charleston and we will continue to grow together."

MSC, which directly employs about 225 local residents, expanded its local presence considerably this year.

In March it opened a new 45,000-square-foot South Atlantic headquarters in Mount Pleasant. In May it signed a five-year contract extension with the State Ports Authority, taking the agreement into 2017. And in June it began a new weekly call as part of a service from eastern South America.

Company officials said they hope to double their local payroll over the next few years, maybe even surpass the company's U.S. headquarters in New York.

SPA Chief Executive Officer Jim Newsome, who has worked to diversify cargo since starting the job in September, has said that recouping container business lost amid the recession is his top priority. The agency's board frequently discussed targeting more Asian services as volume skidded.

The SPA will finish the year with volume levels 40 percent below their 2005 high. Newsome said the new MSC service "speaks volumes about our ability to handle larger ships effectively and efficiently."

MSC's current business includes five weekly calls in Charleston bound for the west Mediterranean, South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.

The Golden Gate Service connects with Singapore and cities in China, Oman, the Bahamas, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. It stopped calling on the Port of Savannah, Charleston's perennial rival, this month.

The ships will dock at the Wando Welch Terminal beginning with the MSC Turchia, which embarks from Shanghai on Jan. 15.

Privately held Mediterranean Shipping is the world's second-largest container carrier, behind industry giant Maersk Line. It operates 382 vessels that can haul the equivalent of nearly 1.5 million 20-foot-long containers.

Reach Allyson Bird at abird@postandcourier.com.