Port of Savannah clearing record volumes despite vessel backlog

The Georgia Ports Authority is on track to move a record-setting 6 million twenty-foot equivalent units this fiscal year.

The Georgia Ports Authority was not thrown off course by the summer backlog of container ships awaiting berths at the Port of Savannah. The GPA reported Tuesday that August was its busiest month ever. 

GPA said it handled 575,513 twenty-foot equivalent units in August — an increase of 18.5%, or 89,918 TEUs, over the same month last year. Counting the July volume of 530,800 TEUs, the Port of Savannah’s performance made for the fastest period in which the port has cleared the 1 million-TEU mark in a fiscal year. 

The port is on track to move more than 6 million TEUs this fiscal year, which began July 1 and runs through June 30, 2023, according to GPA. That would break the record just set in fiscal year 2022, when 5.76 million TEUs were handled. 

GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said while the Port of Savannah continues to work through the vessel backlog, imports on the water are trending downward compared to July, when there were 265,000 containers bound for Georgia. That number currently stands at 223,460 containers.

GPA data late Tuesday morning showed 37 vessels at anchor awaiting berths at the Port of Savannah. That’s down from 43 vessels a week ago. 

Lynch said the number of vessels at anchor will continue to dwindle over the next six weeks and a more permanent solution will come online in June 2023, when improvements to a Garden City Terminal berth are completed.

Work to realign the berth is more than 60% complete, according to GPA, which said the improvements will allow 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,” Joel Wooten, GPA board chairman, said in a news release. “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.”

In a related project, GPA has ordered eight ship-to-shore cranes that are set to be commissioned in December 2023. In addition, work has begun on the second phase of the Garden City Terminal expansion, which will add 90 acres of container storage space to be supported by 15 electric rubber-tired gantry cranes. The project will add 1 million TEUs of annual container handling capacity, coming online in phases in 2023 and 2024. 

Last week global technology provider Navis announced it had implemented a terminal operating system at the Garden City Terminal to help facilitate data exchanges between shippers and carriers and improve the speed of cargo movements. 

In November, GPA commissioned the final nine of 18 working tracks at its Mason Mega Rail Terminal, increasing rail capacity by 30%. Served by Class I railroads Norfolk Southern and CSX, the 85-acre rail yard is the largest of its kind for a port terminal in North America, according to GPA.

“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,” Wooten said. “Combined with a deeper harbor, our improved rail capabilities and expanded container yard space have allowed GPA to maintain fluid cargo management.”

Intermodal volumes, including operations at the Garden City Terminal and Appalachian Regional Port, totaled nearly 51,700 rail lifts in August, up by more than 4,000 lifts compared to the same month in 2021, GPA said.

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