With record-shattering container volumes and advancement of enhancements to existing facilities and a deeper harbor plus development of new infrastructure, the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Port of Charleston is well-positioned to handle further gains in cargo flow on and off of still-larger containerships.
“It’s important for us to grow,” James I. “Jim” Newsome III, SCPA’s president and chief executive officer, told AJOT. “Obviously, there are some uncertainties with trade, although I think most of that’s going to get resolved, so I think we’ll continue to grow.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to continue to build facilities and grow our cargo base to make sure that that growth happens,” said Newsome, a former Hapag-Lloyd (America) Inc. president, now in his 10th year heading SCPA.
Newsome said that, whereas it may not be possible to maintain quite the present percentage levels of gains, the upward trend should remain “significant.”
In its fiscal year ended June 30, 2018, SCPA handled a record 2.2 million 20-foot-equivalent container units, up 3 percent from its 2017 fiscal year, when container volume rose 10 percent over fiscal 2016. Through the first two months of the current fiscal year, SCPA container volume was up 13 percent on a year-over-year basis, with the 206,541 TEUs handled in August representing the highest monthly container volume in the port’s history.
At the same time as extensive modernization moves forward at the Port of Charleston’s 36-year-old Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant, SCPA is progressing with the multiphased, $1.5 billion development of the Hugh K. Leatherman Sr. Terminal on nearly 300 acres at a former U.S. Navy base site along the Cooper River in North Charleston. The first Leatherman Terminal phase is being eyed for completion in 2020, just ahead of projected achievement of deepening of a significant portion of Charleston Harbor to 52 feet.
“What we’ve really been focused on the last couple of years and that we’ll continue to focus on through next year is optimizing and improving and refurbishing the Wando Welch Terminal,” Newsome said.
In July, the Wando Welch Terminal saw its full three-berth capability return, following an 840-day period during which it was down to two available berths due to reconstruction work.
The importance of that full capability cannot be understated, according to Newsome, who said the port now averages more than 1,000 moves per ship call. Those moves are facilitated by eight ship-to-shore cranes with 155 feet of lift height – four new units plus four existing ones refit to the extended ability. Three more similar cranes are due for delivery in 2019, with future plans to acquire at least three additional such cranes.
“Our goal is to have 14 to 15 cranes of 155 feet of lift height at the Wando Terminal, because we want to be able to put four or five big cranes on three ships simultaneously,” Newsome said.
Also, as part of the $370 million effort to increase the Wando Welch Terminal’s annual capacity by 700,000 TEUs, to reach 2.4 million TEUs, by the end of 2019, technology systems have been upgraded while densification of the Wando Welch Terminal includes acquisition of 24 additional rubber-tired gantry cranes, to bring the terminal’s RTG contingent to 62 such units. SCPA’s existing North Charleston Terminal offers 800,000 TEUs of additional yearly capability.
The Leatherman Terminal bodes to bring a total of 2.4 million TEUs of further annual throughput capacity by the time its third phase is finished, anticipated to be in 2032.
Land already has been stabilized and a sheet pile wall built at the Leatherman Terminal site, with construction proceeding toward an estimated 2020 opening of an initial one-berth phase with 700,000 TEUs of yearly throughput capacity. A second phase, targeted for 2026 completion, dependant upon demand, is to bring the terminal’s total annual capability to 1.6 million TEUs.
By the mid-2030s, before capacity is maxed out at Charleston area container terminals, SCPA looks to work with the Georgia Ports Authority on advancing the long-discussed Jasper Ocean Terminal, on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, about 8 miles downriver from GPA’s Garden City Terminal. (SCPA and GPA – traditional rivals – already are working together on reform of the South Atlantic Chassis Pool.)
“In this business, you work hard to plan and time capacity,” Newsome said. “You don’t want capacity too early, before you need it, because that adversely impacts the market. But you don’t want capacity after you need it. So you really have to work very intentionally to have capacity planned on time.”
Meanwhile, collaborative efforts with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and injections of both state and federal funds have the deepening of Charleston Harbor forging ahead toward a goal of bringing the channel to a depth of 52 feet, from present 45 feet, as far as the Wando Welch Terminal by March 2021. A soon-to-be-completed benefit recalculation is being looked to as a force toward project prioritization.
“Depending on what Norfolk does, that would make us the deepest harbor on the East Coast,” Newsome said. “It’s a big step. We think it’s important, because the ships are only getting bigger.”
Newsome added that the cap on ship fuel sulfur content, to take effect in 2020, will further drive the trend toward larger containerships, commenting, “I think you’re going to see a lot of the 5,000-TEU ships that remain being scrapped at a certain point.”
Not only does Newsome expect to see a lot more ships in the capacity range of 13,000 TEUs, but he said a recent simulation indicated Charleston Harbor’s ability to handle a 19,000-TEU vessel – a size ship he believes will be calling the U.S. East Coast by 2020.
The Port of Charleston’s container activity is complemented by breakbulk moves, led by sophisticated roll-on/roll-off cargos, such as BMW and Volvo vehicles and GE and Siemens turbines.
Beyond Charleston, SCPA is this month celebrating five years of successful operation of Inland Port Greer, off Interstate 85 about 220 miles northwest of Charleston via I-26 and linked to the port by double-stacked Norfolk Southern trains.
A second SCPA inland facility opened in the spring about 150 miles north-northeast of Charleston in Dillon, a location on the south side of the North Carolina line that is best known to I-95 motorists for its billboard-promoted South of the Border. The CSX-served Inland Port Dillon is largely supported by Calabasas, California-based Harbor Freight Tools, which has 3 million square feet of proximate warehouse capacity.
In addition to all the SCPA accomplishments, Newsome recently garnered a personal honor as well. In September, he received a 2018 Alumni Professional Achievement Award from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Newsome, who earned his bachelor’s degree in logistics and transportation from UT in 1976 and his master of business administration the following year from UT’s Haslam College of Business, continues to serve UT on the Dean’s Advisory Council and Global Supply Chain Institute Advisory Board.