SAVANNAH, Ga. — Business is surging again at Georgia’s seaports after lagging for months behind record-smashing cargo volumes seen in 2015, the Georgia Ports Authority reported Monday.
The Port of Savannah handled more than 330,000 container units — giant metal boxes used to ship goods from consumer electronics to frozen chickens — during August, setting a new record for that month. And a total of 2.62 million tons of imports and exports moved through the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, up 4.7 percent from the same month last year.
Those numbers, plus lesser growth seen in July, indicate Georgia’s ports are starting to surpass their busiest year on record.
“Looking forward, we feel very positive,” said Griff Lynch, the ports authority’s executive director. “We believe that this year we’ll see a record of volume.”
Last year, Savannah benefited from labor woes on the West Coast that caused shippers to divert a large amount of cargo to the East Coast. Savannah saw its container business jump a staggering 17 percent in fiscal 2015, while Savannah and Brunswick combined saw a whopping 8 percent growth in cargo volume.
It proved a tough year to follow. At the end of June, the 2016 fiscal year closed with total cargo at Savannah and Brunswick dipping 2.7 percent below the previous year’s record 31.7 million tons.
Now imports are booming in Georgia during the ports’ peak season, when retailers begin receiving shipments of goods to stock their shelves during the holidays, Lynch said. During the same period last year, Savannah was still taking in extra cargo that typically would have gone to the West Coast.
“What makes August so incredible is we’re still competing against the diversion cargo for last year,” Lynch said. “So it was a really strong month.”
Savannah, the fourth-busiest U.S. container port, is expecting growth in part because larger cargo ships began using the Panama Canal this summer following a major expansion.
Lynch said in his annual “State of the Ports” speech last week that those big ships are already calling on Savannah, though right now they have to travel the Savannah River at high tide or with lighter loads. A $706 million dredging project to deepen the river channel got started a year ago. It’s expected to wrap up in 2020.