UPDATE: Additional comments added from South Carolina Ports Authority.
- A plan to dredge Charleston Harbor to 52 feet was approved this week, as was the resulting $213 million contract signed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Post and Courier reported Monday.
- The dredging plan will make the harbor and surrounding waterways the deepest on the East Coast, and thus perpetually accessible to post Panamax ships that must currently wait for rising tides to move easily in and out of the harbor.
- The $520 million project will be funded both by the state and by the federal government, and should be completed by 2020, when the new Leatherman Terminal opens for business. The Port of Charleston seeks to become the most accessible and convenient for 14,000 TEU or more sized ships on the East Coast, and another $1.5 billion in spending is planned to accommodate these 'neopanamax' vessels.
The Port of Charleston is gearing up for growth.
"This year we celebrated the first 13,000 TEU vessel call in Charleston in May, only to serve bigger ships as the year progressed, and set a new record in September for the largest vessel ever handled at 14,414 TEUs," said Erin Dhand, South Carolina Ports Authority Manager, Corporate Communications and Community Affairs, in an email to Supply Chain Dive. "The shipping industry has deployed big ships to take advantage of economies of scale, and our harbor deepening project ensures that Charleston offers the waterside capacity to reliably handle ships of this size and serve the growth of both imports and exports in the Southeast region."
From the day in 2012 the South Carolina legislature began earmarking funds for the dredging of the Port of Charleston, the project was clearly intended to move forward. "On the state level, in 2012 the South Carolina General Assembly set aside $300 million for harbor deepening construction to ensure that federal funding needs would not delay the project’s progress," Dhand wrote. "On the federal level, the project requires approximately $270 million in federal funding over the next three years. It was named a 'New Start' and received $17.5 million in funding in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Fiscal 2017 work plan, and we will work diligently with our congressional delegation between now and 2020 to secure the remaining funds."
Since that time, progress has proceeded, first with the long-term planning required for updating a port capable of serving massive, tens of thousands of TEU vessels on a regular basis, and then arrival of two super post Panamax cranes.
Now that contracts have been signed, the specially made equipment necessary for the project has been ordered. Six cranes, costing $69.5 million dollars, will arrive in late 2019, at which point the dredging of the Charleston Harbor to a depth of 52 feet should have reached a completion rate of two-thirds, along with the construction of the Hugh Leatherman container terminal.
Five of the six cranes, all of which will be manufactured by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries, LTD (ZPMC), will provide 169 feet of lift. The sixth is a 155-foot crane meant for the Wando Welch Terminal, the SCPA’s busiest. Two other cranes of this size arrived in August 2016.
What happens next? "Harbor deepening is a one component of long-term plans by both the Port and State of South Carolina to ensure competitiveness," Dhand wrote. "Together, the Port and State are investing over $2 billion by 2020."