With the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, shipping lines are taking advantage of the improved route, and the Port of Savannah is moving more cargo than ever before.
Larger vessels now transiting the Panama Canal bring reduced container slot costs. These lower transportation costs add westward territory to the area best served by the Port of Savannah — now encompassing the area from Houston to Memphis and Chicago. Commerce within this expanded East Coast service area represents approximately 15 percent of U.S. GDP.
Within the shipping line industry, two major trends are in play. The first is a shift toward larger vessels. The Port of Savannah is currently handling 13,000-TEU container ships, and expects to handle up to 14,000-TEU vessels.
The first 13,000-plus TEU vessel in this service called the Port of Savannah on May 11, 2017. The COSCO Development ushered in a new era of big ships and even bigger moves for the Georgia Ports Authority. GPA employees and partners also seamlessly served the OOCL France just 21 days after the Development's arrival.
These massive cargo ships are concentrating their calls on fewer, gateway ports like Savannah. On such stops, Neo-Panamax ships are completing much larger container exchanges -– often thousands of containers per vessel.
The size of these exchanges has been impacted by a second major industry trend — carrier consolidation of cargo onto shared vessels.
On April 1, major global shipping companies realigned into three alliances. In the 60-day period following that realignment, Post-Panamax vessel exchanges at the Port of Savannah averaged 2,900 twenty-foot equivalent container units — a 30 percent increase over the same period last year. Sixty percent of the vessels among Savannah’s steamship services are in the Post-Panamax range, with a capacity of 5,000 TEUs or greater. Garden City Terminal hosts 35 weekly services, the most on the U.S. East Coast.
To continue providing world-class service in the midst of record growth, the Georgia Ports Authority is making significant investments in port infrastructure. In Fiscal Year 2017, the GPA commissioned four new Neo-Panamax ship-to-shore cranes at Garden City Terminal, bringing its fleet to 26 — more cranes than any other U.S. terminal. Another four cranes will arrive in 2018.
The new cranes, along with the Savannah Harbor deepening, help to accommodate the move toward larger ships. Through its expanded locks, the Panama Canal can now accommodate vessels nearly triple the size of the previous maximum.