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Competing ports could collaborate in future as ships get bigger

By Liz Segrist
Published Jan. 23, 2014

The S.C. State Ports Authority discussed the possibility of regional collaboration among ports and investment in its infrastructure to accommodate the larger ships heading for the Charleston Harbor.

Ports authority President and CEO Jim Newsome said he does not know what the regional collaboration would look like or if it would even happen. Newsome said during the ports authority’s meeting Wednesday that it is possible that regional ports will have to work together in the future to remain competitive and to meet the needs of the shipping lines, as they continue to order larger ships.

The ports of Seattle and Tacoma recently announced such an agreement. The former competitors will collaborate for the first time. The ports will discuss rates and operations, for example, to strengthen their offerings in the competitive port industry.

SPA also plans to announce several infrastructure projects over the next 12 months to update terminals and port facilities in the Charleston area to accommodate the larger ships. Many of the port terminals are currently designed for 5,000 to 6,000 twenty-foot equivalent units, a common industry measurement.

Seventeen of the top 20 shipping lines in the world will receive new ships in 2014. Ocean carriers also are ordering larger ships, which are likely to be delivered in 2017.

Twenty-eight ships have been ordered for the 10,000-12,000 TEU range; 60 ships for the 13,000-14,000 TEU range and 41 ships for the 16,000-19,000 TEU range, according to Alphaliner’s data released at the meeting.

The S.C. State Ports Authority is working to deepen Charleston Harbor to at least 50 feet to accommodate these larger ships. The Panama Canal expansion, which is roughly 70% complete, also is expected to flood the East Coast with larger ships in 2015.

In the interim, larger ships are using the Suez Canal to reach their destinations. The ports authority awaits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District’s recommendations of harbor deepening depths, which is to be released this summer.

During its first meeting of the year, the ports authority reported $74.96 million in operating revenue for fiscal 2014, up 9.3% from fiscal 2013. Operating earnings were down 33.5% at $5.11 million for the period ended Dec. 31.

Pier container volumes were up 4.6% at roughly 459,000 for fiscal 2014 compared with fiscal 2013.

“While December volumes were modest, calendar year 2013 closed with a 5.3% increase in pier containers (909,827) and fiscal year 2014 is up 4.6% to date,” the report read.

Breakbulk tons were down 2.9% at roughly 335,000 for fiscal 2014. About 102,000 passengers came to port, up 6%, and 924 ships docked for the period ended Dec. 31.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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