Ships are loaded and unloaded in the Port of Savannah in September 2014. BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC.

Savannah port posts busiest month amid high demand and pending tariffs

Georgia’s seaport in Savannah posted its busiest-ever month for container traffic in August, driven by demand for consumer goods and manufacturers’ desire to get products to shore before new tariffs go into effect in December.

The Georgia Ports Authority said container volume grew 16.5% in August compared to the same month a year ago. The quarter starting in July is typically the Savannah port’s busiest time as shippers deliver goods from overseas in time for the holiday shopping season, said Griff Lynch, the ports authority’s executive director.

Shipping companies craft their schedules months in advance, but Lynch said the volume was so strong that shippers sent eight unplanned vessels to Savannah in August, with more expected in September.

In August, the U.S. Trade Representative announced it would delay until Dec. 15 a new round of tariffs on popular Christmas gifts, such as smartphones, laptops, video game consoles, clothes and shoes.

The tariff deadline, Lynch said, “is hanging out there and there might be some advancement of shipments to beat that.”

Container traffic in Savannah hit a record 4.5 million, 20-foot equivalent units from July 2018 through June, up 7.3% from the prior fiscal year. Automotive and machinery units shipped through the state’s Brunswick port were up 4% during that time.

People watch from St. Simons Pier as emergency responders work to rescue crew members from a capsized cargo ship on Sept. 9, 2019 in St Simons Island, Georgia. A 656-foot vehicle carrier, the M/V Golden Ray departed the Brunswick port on Sunday and suffered a fire on board, capsizing in St. Simons Sound. PHOTO BY SEAN RAYFORD / GETTY IMAGES
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia’s inland and coastal ports are vital cogs in the state’s economy and serve as bellwethers for the regional, national and global economies. The state’s ports have posted substantial growth despite trade tension between the U.S and China and amid other signs of softening global demand.

Lynch said business at the Brunswick port, which specializes in automotive shipments, is back to normal weeks after a cargo vessel capsized in the channel near St. Simons Island. But the process to remove the freighter could take months.

The M/V Golden Ray turned on its side in the channel in the early morning hours of Sept. 8. Most of the crew were evacuated that day, but four men were trapped and were unable to be rescued until the next day.

Lynch said fuel from the ship must be removed before engineers can tackle the daunting task of removing the hulking 656-foot vessel.

“Where we stand today, the Coast Guard is leading the project and they’ve got the best folks in the world from a salvage standpoint working this out,” he said.

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