Army Corps report: Southeast harbors need expansion

The U.S. Army Engineer Institute for Water Resources issued a report on the country’s post-Panamax shipping needs, finding that 50 feet of depth is needed for a harbor to be considered post-Panamax ready. Post-Panamax ships will represent 62% of the total container ship calls by 2030, the report said.

By Matt Tomsic
Published June 26, 2012

The Southeast needs to expand its harbors to meet the needs of a growing post-Panamax shipping fleet that requires deeper water, according to an Army Corps of Engineers report.

“This report recognizes that the Southeast region’s ports are of special importance in a national planning strategy, and that 50-foot channels are considered true post-Panamax harbors,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the S.C. State Ports Authority, in a statement.

Post-Panamax ships will represent 62% of the total container ship calls by 2030, according to the report, and those ships require at least 50 feet of depth.

“Our challenge is to invest in capacity expansion in the right places at the right time consistent with industry needs,” according to the report.

Four West Coast ports have harbors that are 50-feet deep, while Baltimore, Norfolk, Va., and New York have or will have 50-foot harbors soon due to ongoing deepening projects.

“South of Norfolk along the Southeast and Gulf coasts there are no ports with 50-foot channel depths, although Charleston with a 45-foot channel depth and nearly 5 feet of tide can accommodate most post-Panamax vessels,” according to the report. “This is also the region with the greatest forecast population and trade growth.”

The Army Corps is studying the deepening of 17 ports, including deepening the Port of Savannah by 5 feet to 47 feet. The corps expects the project to cost roughly $652 million, and it will issue a record of decision by the end of the year.

Charleston Harbor has also begun to study deepening its harbor beyond 45 feet, its current depth. The feasibility study is expected to take between five and eight years.

“Along the Southeast and Gulf coasts, there may be opportunities for economically justified port expansion projects to accommodate post-Panamax vessels,” according to the report, which added the ports should be individually studied.

Newsome said Charleston offers the best value for post-Panamax service in the Southeast.