Savannah Sets Third Monthly All-Time Record as TEU Volume Surges

Savannah record container volume
Savannah is handling record container volumes (GPA)

Published Sep 14, 2022 6:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Georgia Ports Authority reported that Savannah set a new record for the number of containers handled during August. It was the third record in the past four months as carriers and shippers continue to increase volumes to U.S. east coast ports. 

As the contract expiration neared for dockworkers on the U.S. West Coast analysts had forecast that volumes were expected to increase for ports along the U.S. East and Gulf coasts. Savannah has been one of the primary ports experiencing a further surge in volumes beyond the record pace the port reported in FY 2021. Starting in May, Savannah reported a new all-time high of more than 519,000 TEU. After a slight decline to 494,000 TEU in June the port has continued to see a steady increase in volumes. July reached 530,800 TEU and August experienced a further 18.5 percent increase to 575,513 TEU.

“The Port of Savannah’s geographic and capacity advantages remain a driving force behind current and new customers deciding to move cargo through Georgia,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “Our central location, and service through the largest container terminal in the Western Hemisphere offers speed to market and unmatched room to grow.”

The Georgia Ports Authority began its new fiscal year in July and highlights that they are currently operating at a pace exceeding 6 million TEU annually. Last fiscal year, the port authority reported a record of 5.76 million TEU. Combined July and August exceeded 1 million TEU, becoming the fastest pace for the port to reach that level in its history.

“The investments we have made in our operating infrastructure have been paying off in our ability to handle the sustained influx of business that began two years ago,” said GPA Chairman Joel Wooten. “Combined with a deeper harbor, our improved rail capabilities and expanded container yard space have allowed GPA to maintain fluid cargo management.”

The surge in volume, however, has also resulted in a renewed vessel backlog with a record number of containerships waiting at anchor. Last week, AIS data indicates that more than 40 containerships were riding anchor outside Savannah which exceeds the backlog experienced a year ago when approximately 30 containerships were waiting. As the delays mounted, last October CMA CGM and Hapag began dropping calls at the port. CMA CGM shifted north to Charleston, South Carolina while Hapag substituted Jacksonville, Florida on its route.

GPA Executive Director Lynch commented that the port is focusing on reducing its backlog. He noted that imports were trending down from 265,000 TEU destined for the port in July to the current 223,460 TEU. Today’s AIS data shows at least 35 containerships waiting outside Savannah, but Lynch forecast that they would be able to work down the number further over the next six weeks. 

Work to realign the berth for Container Berth 1 at Garden City Terminal is now more than 60 percent complete he noted with the project scheduled to be completed by June 2023. The improvement will provide space for another big ship berth, allowing the Port of Savannah to simultaneously serve four 16,000-TEU vessels, as well as three additional ships.

“This is a rare project for a U.S. port,” Wooten said. “By this time next year, an additional big ship berth in Savannah will have increased our ability to move containers on and off vessels by 1.4 million TEUs per year.”

Other projects underway to increase the port’s handling capacity include orders for eight new ship-to-shore cranes, set to be commissioned in December 2023. Another project will add 90 acres of container storage space that will add 1 million TEU of annual container handling capacity, coming online in phases in 2023 and 2024.