Big Ships Help Bring Record Amount of Cargo to Port of Charleston

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It was only fitting that a container ship named after the U.S. president responsible for starting construction of the Panama Canal more than a century ago would set a record for the biggest vessel to visit the Port of Charleston in the wake of the canal’s recent expansion.

The CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt wasn’t the first super-sized container ship to sail into Charleston Harbor — the COSCO Development beat it by about three months — but with the capacity to haul more than 14,850 cargo containers, it was the most stunning example of what the maritime industry is calling the “big ship-era.”

The Panama Canal’s expansion in 2015 allowed ships carrying 13,000 or more cargo boxes to travel from Asia to East Coast ports faster, and at a lower cost, than ever before. The 1,200-foot-long behemoths, known as neo-Panamax vessels, started calling on the Port of Charleston once a week in the spring. More frequent visits are expected in coming years. Already, the ships are accounting for more than 10 percent of all cargo moving through the port’s terminals.

The State Ports Authority, along with the state and federal governments, are spending about $2 billion to accommodate the ships — most notably to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet and to build a new container terminal at the former Navy base in North Charleston. Those initiatives will maintain the port’s competitiveness and drive further manufacturing and economic development investments statewide, says authority CEO Jim Newsome.

The initial numbers are promising — a record 1.2 million cargo boxes moving through the port’s terminals in fiscal 2017, helping to boost the authority’s revenue by more than 10 percent to a record $234 million. The success has spurred talk of even larger vessels, with one shipping line thinking of bringing a ship capable of carrying 18,000 containers to Charleston.

“Just as we are still sort of dealing with how do you deal with a 13,000 or 14,000 (cargo container) ship, we realize bigger ships are on the horizon,” Newsome said.

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Source: The Post and Courier

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