Survey: Shippers to shift cargo to East Coast ports

A local company was awarded a $73.5 million contract to supply Husky 2G mine-detection vehicles to Iraq.

Congestion at ports along the West Coast could help the Port of Charleston pick up more business in the coming months, according to a survey by the Journal of Commerce.

The trade publication reports that 65 percent of 138 shippers surveyed last week plan to permanently divert cargo away from West Coast ports because of recent labor problems between port owners and union workers that exacerbated congestion at the busy terminals. An agreement between the two sides was approved late last month, but shippers say they don’t believe that will completely solve the congestion problems.

Nearly 23 percent of shippers said they will send their cargo to ports in the Southeast, including Charleston. Northeast and Gulf Coast ports, tied at 16.1 percent, were the shippers’ second choice.

“The survey is another sign that the West Coast port congestion ... could cause a noticeable shift of cargo away from the coast like the one following 2002 (labor) disruptions,” the journal reports.

Nearly 45 percent of shippers said they will divert up to about one-third of their cargo to ports away from the West Coast, while 9.5 percent said they will send more than half of their cargo elsewhere.

Diversions by importers picked up in the fourth quarter of last year, according to the report. By year’s end, West Coast ports accounted for 54 percent of imports compared to 39.9 percent at East Coast facilities and 6.12 percent along the Gulf shore.

South Carolina’s ports have handled a 15.3 percent increase in overall cargo this fiscal year without any labor issues or significant slowdown in efficiency. Jim Newsome, CEO of the State Ports Authority, has said some of that increase is due to diversions from the West Coast.

See page D9 for more on the West Coast port situation.

A Charleston-based company has been awarded a $73.5 million contract to supply vehicle-mounted mine detectors to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense as part of that country’s fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups.

Critical Solutions International, which is on Clements Ferry Road, will supply the Husky 2G vehicles in partnership with South Africa-based DCD Protected Mobility, which manufactures the vehicles.

“The Iraqi government has determined that the Husky 2G is essential to defeating their improvised explosive device and mine threats and represents a significant investment in saving lives and enhancing the capability of the Iraqi military,” Patrick Callahan, the CEO of CSI, said in a statement.

The Husky 2G is a two-man clearance vehicle equipped with a movable arm that is used to probe suspected explosive devices.

The vehicle also is equipped with a 360-degree camera system and lightweight protection from rocket-propelled grenades. It can be upgraded to include sensors and ground-penetrating radar to detect explosives.

The U.S. Army recognized the Husky 2G’s design with an innovation of the year award in 2010.

Boeing Co.’s expansion in South Carolina will continue this year with the opening of a center devoted to educational programs for its technical workforce, part of Boeing’s plan to renew its focus on the aerospace giant’s engineering talent.

Boeing officials said the new Engineering Career Development Center will provide training for engineers who help build the 787 Dreamliner at the North Charleston campus. It will be among several centers expected to open this year. The first two came online last week in Huntsville, Ala., and Long Beach, Calif. Others are planned for Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, Calif.; St. Louis; Ridley Park, Pa.; Salt Lake City; and in the Puget Sound region of Washington state.

Boeing said it also will be emphasizing the use of employee development resources, such as a program to help engineers prepare for certifications and tuition assistance for employees pursuing engineering-related studies at universities.

“As our people continue to develop their capabilities and knowledge, Boeing will become an even stronger and more competitive company,” said John Tracy, Boeing’s chief technology officer and senior vice president of engineering, operations and technology.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550.