SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) – Total port congestion. That’s how a master pilot is describing big backups outside of the Port of Savannah.
While you can see some ships docked past the Talmadge Bridge, about half a dozen more are docked off the coast of Tybee, waiting to be unloaded.
We’re hearing from the Georgia Ports Authority for the first time on how they plan to handle the backlog. The Georgia Ports Authority leaders point out the issues they’re dealing with are industry wide.
In a one-on-one interview, WTOC spoke with Griff Lynch, the executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.
The first thing Lynch wanted people to know, is Santa Claus is still coming to town. He added while there will be what he called spotty-ness in service on some goods, 90-percent of the goods being shipped in by their customers will make it to store shelves throughout the region.
The other ten percent of goods that might still be sitting, waiting to get shipped out, Lynch said will eventually arrive.
“We actually polled our largest customers, and what we saw and hear is that they believe most of the stuff that they’re shipping will get to the shelves,” Lynch said.
Lynch also referenced import containers that are on the terminal for what’s called a “long dwell”.
“I’m really pleased to report that over the last several weeks, we’ve knocked down the long dwell imports by 70-percent. And I say ‘we’ loosely. It’s the entire maritime community. The truckers, the warehouse folks, the GPA employees out here working 40-percent overtime, the ILA.”
Lynch said port operations are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, loading trains, working on the dock and in the yard. The gate operations window for trucks coming and going is from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but Lynch says that’s what the need requires right now.
“During the summer and these peak months here in the fall, we are working until 11 at night at times when it’s needed by our customers.”
Lynch did say what the GPA has seen over the past year is unprecedented, but added hundreds of millions of dollars is being invested to increase operations, and more people are being hired to meet the needs of customers.
Lynch explained why we’re seeing that back up out to sea here, and at other ports around the nation. Lynch says one of the most basic reasons is, no one expected this influx of freight which started as a result of the pandemic.
Lynch says there’s not enough infrastructure and warehousing to support the influx. And he says that’s not just here in the Savannah area, but across the nation.
“We will have that, and I think it will normalize. The ships are actually arriving, and some ships are on time, but some ships are arriving as late as thirty days behind schedule.”
WTOC asked Lynch if the Port looked at prioritizing ships anchored out to sea.
“We were trying to do that, we were trying to prioritize vessels. But at the end of the day, because there’s so many, and there are approximately 20 to 25 ships at anchor right now…what we’ve said is first come, first served.”
Lynch says ships are waiting anywhere from three to six days right now once they arrive off the Georgia coast. Lynch says another contributing factor to the challenges is the sheer growth of the Port of Savannah, which was 25 and a half percent from this January to today.
“We didn’t expect it. Now what we’re doing is we’re calling forward out capital projects, and expediting those projects and trying to build them as quickly as possible.”
That includes building more berths and more container yards.
Lynch says the GPA has increased their workforce over the past year, as has the ILA. That combined with schools like Savannah Tech training more truck drivers will be what it takes to sustain this growth in the coming years.
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