- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Georgia’s seaports in Savannah and Brunswick are on track to show record growth for the 2017 fiscal year that wraps up at the end of June, the chief executive of the Georgia Ports Authority said Monday.

Total cargo moving through the two ports is expected to top the nearly 32 million tons (29 million metric tons) of imports and exports Georgia saw in fiscal 2015, the ports’ busiest year ever, said Griff Lynch, the authority’s executive director. He also predicted the Port of Savannah should surpass the record 3.6 million container units it saw two years ago.

The big numbers Georgia ports posted in 2015 resulted from a temporary surge in business when labor woes on the West Coast caused shippers to divert much of their cargo to ports on the East Coast. Lynch said business during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, has raced ahead without the extra help.

“What we have going on here is just true, organic growth,” Lynch said during the port authority’s monthly board meeting Monday. “We’re heading toward a record for the year if May and June come in with solid numbers.”

He credited larger ships carrying heavier loads arriving via the Panama Canal, which completed a major expansion last summer. Increases in both imports and exports indicate a healthier economy is also fueling growth, Lynch said.

For the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, total cargo tonnage handled by the Savannah and Brunswick ports is up 7.5 percent compared to the same period last year.

Most of the growth has come from increased traffic in containers, big metal boxes used to ship goods from consumer electronics to frozen chickens. Savannah, the fourth-busiest U.S. container port, has already handled a whopping 3.16 million container units since July 1. Savannah surpassed 3 million containers in a single year for the first time in fiscal 2014.

The latest numbers don’t include the boost Savannah saw from the COSCO Development, the largest cargo ship ever to visit the U.S. East Coast. Dock workers loaded and unloaded 5,500 total containers of imports and exports using six cranes alongside the giant ship after its arrival May 11.

More big ships are on the way. The OOCL France, which has a slightly larger cargo capacity than the COSCO Development, is scheduled to call on Savannah on June 2.

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