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Port sees solid growth, bigger ship on schedule

  • During the 30 hours the COSCO Development was in dock at the Port of Savannah, six cranes moved more than 9,700 TEUs on and off the vessel. The length of four football fields and nearly 160 feet wide, the ship was the largest to ever call on the East Coast. (Georgia Port Authority / Stephen Morton)
  • OOCL France. shown in a photo taken August 2016, is about 100 TEUs larger than the COSCO Development and is expected to call on the port on June 2. (Provided photo)

April was another recording setting month for the Georgia Ports Authority and officials expect the momentum to continue as the organization enters the last few weeks of the 2017 fiscal year.

The GPA handled 333,006 20-foot containers, or TEUs, last month, which was up nearly 12 percent compared to April 2016. Total tonnage increased across all ports by 13 percent to 2.94 million tons, to mark the GPA’s busiest April ever.

“We feel pretty good about a record TEU count for the FY2017,” Griff Lynch, GPA’s executive director said on Monday.

Lynch said he expects to hit about 3.8 million TEUs at the Port of Savannah by the end of the fiscal year, which ends in June. The GPA recorded 3.6 million TEUs in FY2016 and 3.66 million in FY2015.

“(FY2015) was a great year and you can’t discard it, but I think we feel much better about this year because it’s true growth,” Lynch said, adding that much of the growth in FY2015 was due to West Coast cargo diversions, which are no longer in effect.

More big ships on the way

Much of the recent growth, Lynch said, can be attributed to the Panama Canal expansion and a strong economy.

“… This is really organic growth. We’ve seen larger capacity vessels like the COSCO Development, more moves per vessel and it’s everything that we’ve talked about for years, so we’re happy to see it coming together,” he said.

The COSCO Development, which was the largest container ship to ever call on the U.S. East Coast, arrived May 11 at the GPA’s Garden City Terminal where crews completed 5,500 container moves in 30 hours.

“I think what we’ve shown is not only did we handle it, but we handled it better than anybody else ever did in the U.S.,” Lynch said.

The ship is part of a regular rotation deployed in the OCEAN Alliance’s new South Atlantic Express Service, or ECX1, which will bring the ship — or others its size — into port every two weeks. The next big ship OOCL FRANCE, which is about 100 TEUs larger than the COSCO Development is expected to call on the port on June 2.

“I hope that is a sign of things to come and now that the customers see that it’s just another great sign for the Georgia Ports Authority,” he said.

Aside from the larger neo-Panamax ships, Lynch said the next big step for the organization will come in November when the board is presented with the first phase of the Mega Rail Terminal, which was announced in September.

The project, known as the Port of Savannah International Multi-modal Connector, is expected to take three to four years to complete. When finished, it will allow GPA to build entire 10,000-foot-long trains on terminal without disrupting nearby traffic.

“This is going to be the next big thing for Savannah, so it’s going to open up new markets for us,” he said.

“More and more we see customers asking us about service to Chicago especially now that you have mega ships; you’re going to need a mega rail facility. That rail is going to become critical and I think that our timing is just perfect on this.”

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