The Port of Savannah is the third busiest ocean container terminal in the United States. Situated far from the turmoil of the San Pedro Bay Complex, home to the fiasco at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the ocean terminal in Savannah is an ideal option for beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) and shippers trying to avoid subsequent backlogs. However, the Port of Savannah is still subject to the law of supply and demand. Thus, the Georgia container terminal is still enduring several backlogs.
As of early November, the number of vessels waiting to unload stood at 20, Nikiya Carreror of the news station WJCL reported. And as the number of vessels waiting for access increases across all U.S. ports, the need to streamline loading/unloading will undoubtedly grow. However, all ports also have a finite TEU capacity. But the Port of Savannah, operating under the Georgia Port Authority (GPA), is well on its way toward creating massive gains in capacity in the coming months and years.
Current Development of Nearby Land Adds 400,000 TEU Capacity to Port of Savannah
The increased demand for more TEU capacity is a common characteristic at U.S. ports, a prevalent trend throughout 2021 that shows few, if any, signs of subsiding anytime soon. The continued pressures on the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports seem to have fallen out of mainstream media. However, the cargo ships are waiting further out to sea. As a result, the vessels are not necessarily visible at the port. That’s the biggest problem—a perceived solution that’s only hiding a more extensive issue farther away from land.
The same is likely to become a reality for the ocean terminal in Savannah without extensive investments. Meanwhile, the pressures and delays at the San Pedro Bay Complex will inevitably push more shippers and BCOs to have imports arrive along the East Coast.
According to the news station WTOC, the GPA announced a plan to increase container capacity by 20%. At the same time, the GPA announced plans to develop 18 nearby acres to add 400,000 TEU capacity to Savannah terminals. The move is more comparable to a pop-up container yard that will become a permanent structure by July 2022, notes American Shipper. However, that’s not the limit of advancing capacity under the GPA.
A New, 25-Acre Container Yard Is Coming Too
Even before the announced upgrades to create the 400,000 TEU mentioned, the GPA began construction of a 25-acre chassis yard scheduled to be complete in March 2022. It’s all part of the GPA Peak Capacity project. This project is a phase-based approach to adding 820,000 annual TEU capacity to the port by March 2022. Current improvements include:
- Three new gantry cranes and space for another 300,000 TEU capacity.
- A fourth row of container storage.
- Additional empty container space for use by terminal operators.
But why is that important?
The answer is relatively simple. More container space amounts to greater ease in handling delays. Remember that dual transactions help shippers and container operators lessen the overall burden on a port overall. Much of the delays found within news reports of the past six months involve trouble getting empty containers back to the port. There are only so many containers available, and delays in empty returns amount to delays in shipping them back to China for another import trip.
Therefore, creating temporary storage of full containers entices drayage servicers to move containers faster and return with an empty container. This is not simply unloading a full container around the back of the terminal. Rather, it’s using the truckers to incentivize shippers to accept containers and have empty containers ready to go across the region, including at other nearby ports, such as the Port of Charleston.
The GPA Is Also Building Another Vessel Berth
The need to unload vessels faster continues to push investment at the GPA and the ocean terminal in Savannah, regardless of common carrier. As such, the GPA is actively constructing a new ship berth that can accept more 16,000-TEU vessels. The berth is currently 17% complete and expected to come online by 2023. However, this is a long-term strategy, and the advancements made in adding additional capacity through all such expansions are significant.
The new berth will serve four more 16,000-TEU vessels and three additional ships of smaller size. The GPA has also ordered four additional ship-to-shore cranes, which will amount to a grand total of 38 cranes operating at the Port of Savannah by 2023.
Yet again, this is only part of the storyline of how the GPA is working on expanding total capacity by 1.2 million TEU overall.
What’s Next and What Should Shippers Know?
The GPA continues to monitor the situation unfolding at the Port of Savannah. While the currently planned expansions will help, the true test for their value will become evident as the world moves forward in an era of Omicron-dominated news cycles. Still, shippers need solid strategies for managing their imports, and part of that includes working with experts in drayage around the East Coast. That’s where having a strategic partner like Port City Logistics is integral to success.
Port City Logistics operates a 2 million sq. ft. warehouse in Savannah. The warehouse is only a few minutes in transit from the Port of Savannah, making it an excellent place for shippers needing rapid cargo transport and short-term storage. Such storage options make it easier for drivers to focus on picking up full containers and returning to the port terminals with empty containers. As a result of these dual transactions, the overall burden on the port declines. However, such activities also have another positive impact.
Faster service and more dual transactions help shippers and BCOs gain the favor of port authorities. Remember that the West Coast port authorities had already announced intentions of levying additional fees against BCOs for delays in picking up full containers upon vessel unloading. The irony lies in the fact that there were already dwell time and detention time fees in effect, but now, a new fee is on the table. Consequently, shippers that do not have a strategy for speeding pickups and returns of containers will likely face more fees from the GPA as the overall speed of such operations increases.
Ultimately, gains in the speed of drayage and unloading of the container yards will contribute to a faster average for storage and unloading of vessels. In turn, even efficient shippers today could be faced with the prospect of more fees as backlogs return. This is especially crucial to the future of import management along the East Coast. If the backlogs on the West Coast continue to mount, it’s only a matter of time before a larger backlog becomes evident at the ocean terminal in Savannah and all along the East Coast.
Work With an Expert to Thrive Through Construction, Disruption and Higher-Than-Expected Container Volumes
The GPA has already reported record-setting levels of volume for 2021, and the data is still not yet complete. There’s more than one week left in the year, and some would argue that this week will write the full story of how severe the backlog may grow in the lead-up to the Chinese New Year. In the interim, work to expand the ocean terminal in Savannah through more rail connections is underway. The GPA is indeed bringing more capacity online through multiple means, and there’s one other factor to consider.
Today, the Port of Savannah is the third-busiest port, but the massive expansion could push the Port of Savannah closer to becoming the second-busiest, especially if the West Coast ports do not expand. Therefore, any shipper moving freight into the country through the East Coast needs to know that their existing strategies—believed safe from the impact of the Asia-Pacific trade lanes—are at risk. And the only way forward is to understand what’s happening and plan accordingly.
Moreover, with all the variety and news surrounding the GPA and Port of Savannah in mind, it can be difficult to track how well your imports can be managed at the Port of Savannah. More activity and capacity naturally mean a greater demand for drayage services and higher trucking rates. However, the real trick to success lies in using an expert in the regional transit of imports. That includes working with the experts to consider the precise timelines of when new capacity at the GPA will come online, how current construction might impact the flow of goods in the area, where container storage will be available, and what other potential disruptions exist.
Still, the best-laid plans are built on the foundation of data and planning, which is why more companies are turning to experts like Port City Logistics to make sense of what’s happening in the world of import drayage and how to avoid higher costs wherever possible. Connect with Port City Logistics to learn more today.