Six cranes load and unload containers Friday, May 12, 2017 at the Port of Savannah from the Cosco Development, the largest container ship to ever call on an East Coast port. The ship called on Savannah May 11-12, 2017. J. Scott Trubey/strubey@ajc.com
Photo: J. Scott Trubey/STAFF
Photo: J. Scott Trubey/STAFF

Savannah and Brunswick ports set record for fiscal year

The Georgia Ports Authority said Monday it broke a new record in the number of shipping containers it moved in the past fiscal year, buoyed by what its executive director described as organic growth as well as new business from larger ships plying the waters of the East Coast.

The authority moved 3.85 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) container units in the 12 months ended in June, up 6.7 percent from the prior year. But the growth in container traffic was particularly strong from January to June, when traffic grew 11.6 percent at the Savannah port over the same six months a year ago.

Biggest ship to ever port on East Coast, visits Savannah

Backers say the growth fuels the economy in metro Atlanta, a key distribution point for many of the goods flowing in and out via the port.

The GPA operates the Savannah and Brunswick ports as well as inland facilities.

In response to growth, the ports board approved nearly $73 million for the purchase of six new Neopanamax cranes to go along with four others recently acquired. The cranes are a bet on what the ports authority believes will be a continued shift to ever-larger freighters entering its facilities.

“Our volume growth continues to outpace forecasted demand,” GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch said in a news release. “Shipping lines are moving 13,000- and 14,000-TEU vessels into service on the East Coast more quickly than anticipated, and concentrating their deliveries at efficient gateway ports like Savannah.”

He said the crane purchase, along with four already on order, will enable GPA to increase crane capacity by nearly 40 percent.

“Our customers are choosing to use Savannah and Georgia as a gateway to the Southeast,” Lynch said in an interview. The Savannah port was one of a handful of Eastern ports to be paid visits by the two largest container ships to ever dock on the East Coast.

“When the ocean carriers realigned their services Savannah has been a beneficiary of that,” he said.

The volume gain comes as work continues on a massive, nearly $1 billion channel-deepening project aimed at keeping the Savannah port competitive. 

Savannah port backers were disappointed when federal authorities did not provide the deepening project with as much discretionary funds as expected in the most recent federal budget. But Lynch said that project is continuing without delay.

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