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Charleston Clears Backlog While Handling Record Container Volumes

Charleston reduces containership backlog
Charleston reported record volumes while also reducing its containership backlog (SC Ports)

Published May 10, 2022 6:56 PM by The Maritime Executive

After saying earlier this year that they had given up forecasting when the containership backlog off Charleston could be cleared, South Carolina Ports officials highlighted that they have finally been successful in reducing the backlog while also continuing to handle a record number of containers. SC Ports had its highest April ever for containers handled, marking the 14th consecutive month of cargo records at the Port of Charleston, while also making what it terms “significant progress,” on the backlogs and disruptions to normal port operations. 

Currently, just two containerships are waiting at anchor to enter the Port of Charleston. This is down from a peak of 28 vessels in the anchorage. The South Carolina Ports Authority had predicted that it would clear its backlog by the beginning of 2022, later delaying the forecast to late February and then April, before saying it would no longer predict when the congestion would clear at the Port of Charleston. 

At the beginning of April, analysts from MarineTraffic highlighted that there was more TEU capacity stuck outside East Coast ports than on the West Coast of the United States. At the time, 18 containerships were waiting at Charleston with analysts saying that they believed carriers and shippers were routing more traffic to the east to avoid the backlog, especially at the California ports along with the potential of future disruptions due to the upcoming longshore labor negotiations.

South Carolina Ports continues to handle record cargo volumes saying that the volumes are being sustained by retail imports. They reported that import volumes were up 34 percent in April compared to last year.

“With ongoing supply chain challenges and record cargo volumes, SC Ports remains focused on deploying responsive, creative solutions to return terminal and berth fluidity to normalcy for our customers,” SC Ports CEO Jim Newsome said. “We are in a strong position as we have proactively invested more than $2 billion into our infrastructure ahead of demand.”

SC Ports handled 264,099 TEUs at its two terminals in April, up 17 percent from last year. SC Ports has moved 2.4 million TEUs thus far in fiscal year 2022, from July through April, up 15 percent fiscal year-over-year.

April marked an all-time record for pier containers. SC Ports handled 145,779 pier containers last month, a 16 percent increase year-over-year. Thus far in fiscal year 2022, SC Ports has moved 1.3 million pier containers, up nearly 15 percent from the same period the prior year.

SC Ports COO Barbara Melvin pointed to the hard work of the port employees who helped to implement operational changes in real-time to respond to the ongoing supply chain challenges. Among the steps taken by SC Ports, they hired more than 150 people in operations, providing Sunday gates for motor carriers, prioritizing the shipping lines taking empties out, giving berth priority to vessels taking out more cargo, and leasing new chassis.

It is hard to compare the progress with the West Coast ports where they adopted a policy of asking containerships to register for berths and slow steam across the Pacific as opposed to anchoring or idling within a 25 mile radius for example off the San Pedro Bay. Yesterday, there were only four containerships anchored in or off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and in the Huntington anchorage accord to the Marine Exchange of Southern California. However, they reported that 16 containerships are scheduled to arrive over the next three days, which is basically consistent with the volumes seen in 2018/2019. They reported that a total of 31 containerships are currently registered as heading to the twin ports but of course, Pacific volumes have been impacted by the ongoing lockdowns in China.