Ports authority plans to increase rates

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published April 16, 2014

The S.C. State Ports Authority plans to increase its rates and simplify its contracts in fiscal 2015, according to President and CEO Jim Newsome during the authority’s monthly board meeting today.

The amount that customers’ rates will increase has not been determined yet. Newsome has long been promoting the need to increase rates to justify investments and remain competitive. Southeastern ports’ rates are, on average, about 30% lower than Northeastern ports’ rates.

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“We believe there’s an opportunity to increase our rates in a highly competitive market,” Newsome said.

Looking ahead for fiscal 2015, the ports authority plans to focus on the development of rail projects, refrigerated cargo transloads and agriculture transloads.

In 2011, The Jimco Group of Savannah opened a bulk transloading facility for agricultural exports at the Port of Charleston. Bulk agricultural commodities arrive by rail and are transferred to shipping containers, giving farmers another option to ship products overseas.

“A few years ago, the Port of Charleston did not handle agriculture transloads,” Newsome said. “Today, the Port of Charleston now handles about 500 loads a week.”

The ports authority also wants to increase break-bulk projects, or cargo that has to be individually loaded in bags or boxes rather than in a shipping container. The authority has seen new break-bulk customers come online, including wood pulp, steel and wire rod suppliers.

“These customers are directly tied to the manufacturing in this state,” said Newsome, who expects more break-bulk customers for the port this year.

The board also reported monthly figures during its meeting. The Port of Charleston handled roughly 1.2 million 20-foot equivalent units — a common industry measurement — in fiscal 2014. This is up 5.3% from fiscal 2013, which includes July through March.

The ports authority’s operating revenues were $116.73 million for fiscal 2014 as of March 31, up 13.7% from fiscal 2013. Total expenses were $107.18 million for fiscal 2014, up 14.8% from the year prior. Operating earnings were down 2.4% at $9.56 million.

Break-bulk tons were up about 3.9% at 507,700 for fiscal 2014, the board reported. Roughly 142,000 passengers came to port, up 7.6%, and roughly 1,300 ships docked during the period ended March 31, down less than 1% from last year.

For March, pier container volumes, which track the number of boxes moved, were up 11% at roughly 85,600 containers compared to March 2013.

“March closed with rebounding high volumes that have not been achieved since August 2008,” according to the ports authority.

As for the S.C. Inland Port in Greer, the port increased its days of operation from six to seven. Newsome said the inland port now has six customers.

Also, the board is continuing its discussions with the town of Port Royal to potentially sell its Port Royal site, ports authority board Chairman Bill Stern said.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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