Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jan 25, 2022

The Port of Savannah has dramatically boosted its ability to handle cargo over the past year, making improvements that should clear up some supply chain issues by mostly eliminating the lines of ships waiting to unload.

In the early fall, at any given time, more than 30 vessels were lined up, waiting to unload imports and load exported goods. Now, it’s no more than one or two, said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

The average container sat in the Savannah port tie for more than 12 days halfway through the year. The average is now about six days, he said.

“We are handling more cargo than we ever handled before,” he said.

The Port of Savannah has recorded 12 consecutive months of record growth, he said. In December, it handled 465,000 containers. For the whole year, the port handled 5.6 million containers, a 25% jump from the year before.

Savannah has become one of the nation’s most crucial trading links. Last year, the port handled 22.5% of the container cargo coming in on the East Coast and 11.3% of the cargo coming into the United States, said Lynch.

The pandemic has brought challenges. At first, when the coronavirus hit China, factories shut down and shipments through Savannah ebbed. Then, as U.S. consumers spent more time at home, orders for goods soared. Port officials scrambled to respond to the surge in shipments, said Joel Wooten, the authority’s chairman of the board.

Savannah had been in the midst of expansion before the pandemic began. But, Wooten said, “We have had to move many projects up, things that we had planned for one, two, or three years down the road.”

The authority has opened four inland yards, including one in the Reynoldstown section of Atlanta, that take thousands of containers that would otherwise be clogging the port. Several hundred workers and more machinery have also been added at the port itself, he said.

While the worst of the supply chain snarls have eased, costs are higher than before, said Enrique Alvarez, managing director at Atlanta-based Vector Global Logistics, which provides logistics services.

Officials expect the coming months to be busy, but should the economy cool — a possibility with the Federal Reserve likely to raise interest rates — Savannah would see a drop in imports, Lynch said. “If consumers stop spending, if things get more expensive, that is really going to affect us,” he said.

The Ports Authority also manages the Port of Brunswick, which handles shipments of vehicles and various kinds of machinery. Those operations have been disrupted by the global shortage in silicon chips that have forced many manufacturers to cut production. Even so, Brunswick handled 649,550 units of cars, trucks, and machinery during the year, an increase of 10.6% from 2020.