- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - March proved to be the busiest month at the Port of Charleston in almost six years, with a 16 percent increase in container volume over February, the board of the South Carolina Ports Authority learned Wednesday.

Almost 86,000 containers moved through the port last month, making it the busiest since August of 2008, when the economy was descending into the Great Recession.

The numbers represent an 11 percent increase in volume over March of last year. And for the first nine months of the fiscal year that started last July, volume is up nearly 5 percent, said Jim Newsome, the president and CEO of the authority.

“March is typically a seasonally strong month, but I can’t give you one reason” for the increase, Newsome told reporters during a news briefing. “Both segments - imports and exports - were pretty strong.”

Back in 2008, the port handled 972,000 containers and “we need to get back to that level,” he added. The authority’s business plan for this fiscal year projects handling 945,000.

Newsome said that business also has been brisk for handling break bulk cargo - cargo not shipped in steel shipping containers.

“It’s commodities that feed the manufacturing of products in South Carolina. Its wire rods for the manufacturing of tires or wood pulp for the manufacturing of diapers - things directly tied to the manufacturing that is growing in this state,” Newsome said.

Traffic also continues to grow at the state’s inland port in Greer that was opened late last year. The inland port allows containers to be shipped by rail between the coast and the port where they are loaded onto or off of trucks.

There are now six customers using the inland port and more are expected, Newsome said.

“We always said about the inland port that one thing it would be handling is customers in that area. The longer term prospects for that is I see a lot of distribution center interest there,” Newsome added. “We’re working on two or three distribution center projects today that are more interested in Greer than in anywhere else.”

Newsome said that during the coming year the authority will simplify shipping contract terms and increase rates. He says while the shipping business is governed by the lowest cost of operations, ports in the Southeast, like Charleston, are a bargain compared with ports farther north.

So, he said, there is room to raise rates a bit. He said it had not been determined what the increase might be.

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