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The US Port of Savannah Expands to Handle the Largest Shipping Container Vessels

The east coast Port of Savannah, operated by the Georgia Ports Authority, has grown over the decades to claim the title of largest single shipping container terminal in the US. It’s also one of the most important destinations and busiest in the global shipping container network.

Savannah’s Three Terminals Continue to Process a High Volume of Shipping Containers

Whilst the international shipping container industry has struggled since the financial crisis of 2008, the Port of Savannah still handles a huge number of freighters every year. Between them, Savannah’s Ocean and Garden City Terminals handled 2,330 shipping container vessels in 2016, which is only slightly down on five years ago, when the number stood at 2,372.

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The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP)

With thousands of intermodal, steel shipping containers continuing to arrive in Savannah by road, rail and sea, the port is currently witnessing one of the country’s largest civil engineering projects, designed to speed up ship movements and allow much larger vessels to dock, including the Cosco Development, which is even longer than one of the US Navy’s a Nimitz-class aircraft carriers – basically the size of a small town!

Savannah-Harbor-Expansion-ProjectThe fact that ships of such vast dimensions can now sail into Savannah is thanks to the deepening of the Savannah River channels to 47 feet at low water. It’s also a consequence of the significant expansion of the Panama Canal, to allow larger vessels to navigate between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and then on to the Atlantic Ocean.

Shipping Container Imports and Exports Significantly Boost Georgia’s Economy

Conex box movements on a huge scale have generated more than 369,000 local jobs for Savannah and over $20 billion in personal income for the workforce. Corten steel shipping containers of all types and sizes transit the port – refrigerated, insulated, high cube, flat rack and other specialist models. Although the work of loading and unloading is made easier by dockside cranes, the wider infrastructure still demands a great deal of labor.

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The Port of Savannah handles over 8% of the US’s containerized cargo each year, which equates to almost 4 million TEU’s (twenty-foot equivalent units) annually. That’s 18% of East Coast shipping container trade. Pretty impressive statistics, especially when you learn that the port serves 21,000 businesses across all 50 states.

The Port of Savannah is a Vital East Coast Shipping Hub

Savannah is an attractive transit port, thanks largely to fast voyage times – as low as 22 days to some Asian destinations and just 11 days to Europe, via a popular, express service.

The terminal offers close to 3 million square feet of shipping container storage facilities, plus over 700,000 square feet of cold storage for perishable cargo, like food and drink. The docks are designed to handle breakbulk, RoRo, heavy lift, project cargo and the usual intermodal shipping container traffic in various sizes.

Looking to the Future for the Georgia Port

In many ways, the dredging and expansion of the channels that serve the Port of Savannah are future-proofing it for the arrival of super-sized shipping container vessels, like the aforementioned Cosco Development. Larger ships mean economies of scale and faster transit times through terminals, and the trend looks sure to persist into the foreseeable future. Wise investment in infrastructure looks certain to serve Savannah well in the coming years and lead to a substantial increase in container traffic.