‘Significant shift in vessel calls’ to Port of Savannah helps drive record year

Consumer demand, vessel diversions and efforts to avoid congested West Coast ports drove the Georgia Ports Authority to break its record for annual volumes.

Fiscal year 2022 was a banner year for the Georgia Ports Authority, with a record-breaking 5.76 million twenty-foot equivalent units handled since last July.

GPA’s 2022 fiscal year ran from July 1, 2021, to June 30. Container volumes for 2022 were 8% higher year over year.

June was also a record month at the Port of Savannah, with the port handling 494,107 TEUs, or 10.6% more cargo compared with June 2021. 

GPA attributed the increase to a “significant shift in vessel calls” from the West Coast to the East Coast amid labor talks and delayed access to rail there. Container volumes diverted from the Port of Charleston in South Carolina and the port’s own “organic growth” among its customers also contributed to record 2022 volumes. These factors also resulted in a higher than normal number of vessels waiting at anchor. 

The port authority said the Port of Savannah is currently handling the highest volume of ad hoc and new service vessels to date. 

“Despite the record volumes, the Port of Savannah remains fluid,” said GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch in a news release. “Several factors have contributed to our growing container capacity, including expedited infrastructure projects, our inland pop-up yards and an influx of truck drivers moving to the Southeast.”

In fiscal year 2022, GPA saw record truck turns during both day and night gate operations, with the Garden City Terminal averaging 14,500 truck moves per week in June.

Export loads totaled 1.32 million TEUs, with forest products, kaolin clay and automotive cargo being the top exports, while import loads totaled 2.86 million TEUs. Furniture, machinery and plastic goods were the top import commodities.

Breakbulk tonnage rose 15.7% to more than 3 million tons, with breakbulk forest products at Mayor’s Point Terminal in Brunswick jumping from 52,244 tons in 2021 to 252,000 tons in 2022.

“Much of the increase in breakbulk cargo crossing GPA docks is related to the relatively lower cost of breakbulk movement compared to container rates in today’s market,” Lynch said.

At its July meeting, GPA’s board approved the $30.25 million purchase of 12 new rubber-tired gantry cranes and other container handling equipment. The additional gantry cranes will bring the Port of Savannah’s total to 234.

GPA is also seeking to expand dock space to handle additional big ships and increase container storage space at the Port of Savannah. The port authority is also planning to enhance its ability to handle autos and breakbulk in Brunswick. 

Subscribe to FreightWaves’ e-newsletters and get the latest insights on freight right in your inbox.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.