Charleston Claims Title of Deepest Harbor as East Coast Ports Expand

Charleston harbor
Charleston completed expansion giving it currently the deepest US East Coast harbor (SC Ports)

Published Dec 5, 2022 5:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

In the ongoing competition among U.S. East Coast ports to expand their capabilities, officials in the Port of Charleston, South Carolina are now boasting that they have the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast.  During a dedication ceremony today at the port, government leaders and port officials said the completion of the multi-year effort makes SC Ports more competitive, and they expect it will help to attract new ship services, first-in-calls, and more cargo to South Carolina.

With a depth of 52 feet, the biggest ships calling at the East Coast can access South Carolina Ports’ terminals any time and any tide said the state’s Governor Henry McMaster. He predicted that ships filled with record imports and heavy exports will seamlessly sail through Charleston Harbor to SC Ports’ terminals.

“It is a truly historical moment to be celebrating this monumental achievement. Charleston Harbor has been deepened to 52 feet,” said SC Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin. “With the deepest harbor on the East Coast, we can efficiently work mega container ships at any tide. This investment will bring economic success to South Carolina for generations to come.”

The deepening work began in 2018, with $300 million the state set aside in 2012, followed by several infusions of federal funding. In 2019, Congress appropriated $138 million for the project, funding it to completion. The Army Corps awarded a total of five dredging contracts, three to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Corp., one to Norfolk Dredging Co., and one to Marinex Construction. The work was completed in four years. The roughly $580 million infrastructure project was fully funded by state and federal dollars.

The entrance channel was deepened to 54 feet to seamlessly handle vessels coming and going to SC Ports. A 52-foot depth was achieved in Charleston Harbor up to both Wando Welch Terminal and Leatherman Terminal, and a 48-foot depth was achieved between Leatherman Terminal and North Charleston Terminal. The turning basins were also widened in front of Wando Welch Terminal and Leatherman Terminal, enabling ships to pass one another and turn around without restrictions. The new channel extends 40 miles from the ocean through the inner harbor and the port’s three container terminals.

The project is also part of a broader effort to invest in the port’s infrastructure. Investments have been made to improve the speed and handling of containers at the terminals. The state is also investing in improvements to its rail line and highways to support the movement of cargo,

Ports along the U.S. East Coast have all been working to rapidly expand their capabilities to handle the surge in container traffic. Dredging is also underway at Norfolk, Virginia which would make the port deeper than Charleston when the project is completed. Boston also recently marked the completion of its expansion projects, while Jacksonville has also been dredging and expanding its capabilities. Today, the Georgia Ports Authority also announced plans to renovate and realign the docks at the Port of Savannah’s Ocean Terminal to better accommodate its expanding container operation. They will be moving their current breakbulk operation to Brunswick, Georgia while rebuilding the container docks and adding new cranes.