“The ships in the Charleston Harbor are getting bigger.”
— Jim Newsome, president and CEO, S.C. State Ports Authority
Before the Panama Canal expansion, ships larger than 5,100 TEUs could not fit through the narrow passageway connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
In May, the Port of Charleston will handle a 13,000-TEU ship with the arrival of the Cosco Development, and S.C. State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome said he expects at least one more ship that size to call on Charleston this year.
In fact, Newsome said he expects more than 75% of the ships calling on Charleston Harbor will be larger than 5,100 TEUs.
Vessels up to 14,000 TEUs can fit through the expanded canal, according to the project website; and once Charleston Harbor is deepened to 52 feet, the port will be able to regularly accommodate 14,000-TEU ships at any tide.
Newsome said the port should be able to handle up to 18,000-TEU ships, assuming the ships are not taller than 200 feet — the height restriction of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
A pricing increase would help the port offset the cost of deepening, as well as several other multimillion-dollar projects — including a $40 million ongoing renovation at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant and the construction of the Hugh Leatherman Sr. Terminal in North Charleston — but Newsome said industry losses and mass consolidations are making that difficult.
“We’re coming off a year in calendar 2016 which was probably the most tumultuous year in the history of container shipping,” Newsome said.
Large shipping companies that have traditionally been fierce competitors have partnered up, forming mega alliances. They have a shared goal of deploying bigger ships and, ultimately, moving more product faster.
“The only way they can deploy big ships and get the service frequency they need is to share vessel sizes,” Newsome said. “I expect to see upsizing of ships, not more of them (in Charleston). ... The ships in the Charleston Harbor are getting bigger.”