Charleston Takes Steps to Clear Backlog by Pausing Construction

Charleston is pausing construction to have three berths and clear congestion (SC Ports)

Published Jul 2, 2024 7:27 PM by The Maritime Executive


After reports of persistent backlogs and congestion at the Port of Charleston, port officials highlight they are taking steps to reduce the frustrations. The goal is to temporarily pause the current construction at the container terminal to clear the backlog before proceeding.

SC Ports says it has been working through a ship backlog, following a two-day software issue in May and ongoing berth impacts at the Wando Welch Terminal related to toe wall construction along the wharf to maintain a 54-foot berth depth. After the port reopened from the shutdown due to the software problem as many as 20 ships were waiting. At the end of May, 10 days after a two-day shutdown due to a software problem, there were a dozen or more containerships still waiting offshore as the port continued to work through its backlog while also servicing incoming vessels. By late June, the backlog was down to seven ships.

Contributing to the challenges, in March construction began on the toe wall at the Welch terminal. They are installing steel sheets along the wharf. For most of the spring, the terminal was able to accommodate three ships, but as the project progressed, they closed one of the three berths causing longer wait times for vessels. 

Beginning July 3, SC Ports will pause work on the toe wall project to open all three berths at the Wando Welch Terminal. They reported that the backlog had been reduced to three ships at anchor but now they want to clear the wait so that the port can handle ships as they arrive.

The pause will last for two weeks until July 14 by which time they expect to handle ships as they arrive. When the work resumes, they expect an average 48-hour wait. This will continue until the late fall when they expect all three berths will reopen. The construction project is slated to run till March 2025, but the latest phases will not impact the berths.

Port officials highlight other interim steps including a flexibility to handle vessels at either Wando Welch or the North Charleston Terminal. Last week, they also reported the port and the International Longshore Union agreed to a framework for the future staffing of the port which will permit operations at the new Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal. The new terminal has largely been idle since it was completed due to the labor issues. Currently, only the MSC Michigan VII, the vessel that made the high speed exit from Charleston, is detained at the terminal while carriers have declined to dock at the terminal until the labor issues were resolved.

The port also highlights the flexibility of the carriers and new programs such as a virtual queue and flexible start times all designed to improve fluidity and reduce vessel waits.