2024 is too late, according to maritime leaders, port, business and political officials, as the industry’s big ship trend is changing the competitive landscape for the nation’s ports. The opening of the expanded Panama Canal in 2014 will be a game-changer for the shipping industry, opening the US East Coast to more big ships and increased expanded direct trade. In fact, nearly 80% of the ships on order today are post-Panamax sized.
“Charleston is our nation’s best chance to deliver a next-generation harbour for the Southeast region,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA). “This deepening project will drive economic investment and jobs in our state while customers across the entire region will benefit from lower supply chain costs. And, importantly, this is the nation’s best buy for a South Atlantic deepening project.”
Charleston’s need for a 50 foot deep (15.24 m) shipping channel is also key to its successful competition with the Port of Savannah, which is nearing the end of its 15-year effort to plan for the deepening of the Savannah River.
More than 20,000 companies in several dozen states use the Port of Charleston to access global markets and the Charleston project will bring an estimated US$106m in annual net benefits for a US$140m federal investment. The US Army Corps of Engineers said that based on preliminary studies at other nearby harbours, “Charleston Harbour would probably be the cheapest South Atlantic harbour to deepen to 50 feet (15.24 m)”
While Charleston currently has the deepest water in the region, the largest ships call during high tide, when water depths accommodate vessels with drafts of up to 48 feet. Having unrestricted access for these big ships will attract the world’s leading ocean carriers and inspire new investment from companies looking to efficiently serve trade demand and growing markets.
For its part, the SCPA is investing US$1.3bn over the next decade on landside improvements to its facilities, including a new container terminal at the former Navy Base to handle increased trade demand.
“Harbour deepening is the only missing component,” Newsome added.