In September 2005, the Board of the South Carolina State Ports Authority (SCSPA), which oversees the Port of Charleston’s container terminal operations, approved the largest single equipment purchase in the agency’s 65-year history, authorising just under US$64 million in new and upgraded equipment.
Larger ships and growing volume are driving the investments, which will be complete by mid-2007. While post-panamax ships are common sights on the U.S. West Coast and in Europe and Asia, there are few on regular rotation on the East Coast. However, Charleston regularly handles ships up to 6,700-TEU.
An additional factor is the expected dedication of post-panamax ships to trans-Suez services between Asia and the East Coast. Charleston is well prepared for the larger ships, with a 45-foot channel (13.7 m) all the way to the dock plus a five-six foot (1.5 m) tidal lift.
As for growth, cargo volume at the Port of Charleston has nearly doubled in 10 years. Between 1996 and 2006, container volumes went from just over one million TEU to 1.96 million. The SCSPA has focused on improving efficiencies as opposed to only increasing the terminal footprint.
Charleston has enhanced utilisation and productivity through longer gate hours, denser stacking, new gate systems and other initiatives. While one typically expects congestion with volume growth, the SCSPA has achieved the opposite. In September 2006, the SCSPA’s port-wide crane productivity was 41.2 moves per hour per crane and trucker turn times averaged 21 minutes.
More than half of the total investment approved for Charleston is for dockside handling equipment.
The SCSPA is acquiring four new super post-panamax cranes from the low bidder, ZPMC of Shanghai, China, at a cost of $33 million. The SCSPA solicited expressions of interest from 14 companies. Six responded and three bids were received. Charleston currently has a fleet of 21 ship-to-shore cranes,
four of which are aged second generation Canron cranes installed in 1982.
The new cranes will replace these older cranes, which were designed to handle ships of up to 2,000 TEU capacity and 11 containers wide on deck. These cranes are now obviously outmoded in terms of size and are about 33 per cent slower than the next slowest crane at the port, making them obsolete in terms of speed.
Because the new cranes were manufactured in China where access for inspection would require extensive effort, Charleston contracted with Gottlieb, Barnett & Bridges, LLC
of Mobile, Alabama for engineering and quality assurance.
However, SCSPA staff remained actively engaged in the construction of the cranes and travelled to China several times during assembly. In mid-January, the cranes departed aboard the ZHENHUA 19 for the 15,000 mile journey to Charleston. Delivery is expected by late March. In addition to the cranes themselves, an additional $1.4-million electrical substation is required to support the two cranes slated for North Charleston Terminal.
Over the past several years, the SCSPA has transitioned from a largely wheeled container storage operation to a principally grounded operation. To further increase capacity and performance it was necessary to bring on newer, better equipment and upgrading existing equipment.