Port of Charleston

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Port of Charleston
CountryUnited States
LocationCharleston, South Carolina, USA
Coordinates32°47′05″N 79°55′26″W / 32.7846°N 79.924°W / 32.7846; -79.924Coordinates: 32°47′05″N 79°55′26″W / 32.7846°N 79.924°W / 32.7846; -79.924
Operated bySouth Carolina Ports Authority
Owned bySouth Carolina Ports Authority
Type of harborContainer, breakbulk, cruise
Annual container volume2.4 million TEU in Calendar Year 2019 [1]
Value of cargo$72 billion in Calendar Year 2018 [2]
Draft depth45 feet
Air draft

The Port of Charleston is a seaport located in South Carolina in the Southeastern United States. The port's facilities span three municipalities — Charleston, North Charleston, and Mount Pleasant — with five public terminals owned and operated by the South Carolina Ports Authority (SPCA). These facilities handle containers, motor vehicles and other rolling stock, non-containerized goods and project cargo, as well as Charleston's cruise ship operation. Additional facilities in the port are privately owned and operated, handling bulk commodities like petroleum, coal and steel.

Early history[edit]

Charleston's earliest history is tied to its prominence as a center of trade. After establishing Charles Towne along the banks of the Ashley River in 1670, the original settlers moved to the Charleston peninsula, favoring that location's natural harbor. By 1682 Charles Towne was declared the port of entry for the colony. From the founding of the colony until the start of the American Civil War, the colony's principal exports were lumber and naval stores, furs and animal skins, rice, indigo, cotton, and tobacco; and imports of primarily human traffic up until the late 1700s. As a result of this trade, the colony flourished.[3]

The Port of Charleston later suffered in the wake of the Civil War. The harbor itself was in shambles and filled with mines and the wrecks of sunken Confederate and Union ships. The Southern economy had little to export and Charleston's network of private wharves were neglected and left to ruin. The establishment of several major federal military bases during the early 20th century benefited Charleston Harbor tremendously. Because of this federal presence, the harbor itself was well-maintained and greatly improved over the years. Mayor John P. Grace brought renewed interest in reviving the Port of Charleston's shipping presence by establishing the Port Utilities Commission in the early 1920s. In 1922 the city purchased the Charleston Terminal Company, which owned the majority of the peninsula's commercial waterfront assets, for $1.5 million. In 1942, the South Carolina Legislature established the South Carolina Ports Authority[4] with the responsibility to foster waterborne commerce for the benefit of the State of South Carolina.

Ranking, Volume and Investments[edit]

In 2018, the Port of Charleston ranked as the 9th port in the United States by cargo value, with over $70 billion in imports and exports traded across the docks.[5] The Port of Charleston hosts shipping services by all of the globe’s top container carriers.[6] In fiscal year 2019, the Port of Charleston handled 2.4 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs), achieving record container volume.[7]

The South Carolina Ports Authority plans to invest $1.6 billion in new and existing facilities over a 10-year period.[8] This plan includes a new container terminal in North Charleston on the former Navy Base, as well as major improvements to existing facilities, technology upgrades, and two inland ports. Today the Port of Charleston boasts the deepest water in the southeast region and regularly handles post-Panamax vessels passing through the newly expanded Panama Canal. A next-generation harbor deepening project is currently underway to take the Port of Charleston's entrance channel to 54 feet and harbor channel to 52 feet at mean low tide. With an average high tide of 6 feet, the depth clearances will become 60 feet and 58 feet respectively.

In response to the growth in traffic at both Charleston and the Port of Savannah, the Jasper Ocean Terminal is planned to be built on the Savannah River by 2035.[9][10]

Terminals in the Port of Charleston[edit]

  • Wando Welch Terminal, used for container cargo, located in the town of Mount Pleasant.
  • Columbus Street Terminal, used for project cargo, breakbulk and roll-on/roll-off cargo. Located in the city of Charleston.
  • Union Pier Terminal, used for cruise ship operations, located in the city of Charleston.
  • North Charleston Terminal, used for container cargo, located in the city of North Charleston.
  • Veterans Terminal, used for project cargo, break-bulk and roll-on/roll-off cargo. Located in the City of North Charleston.
  • Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal, 80 acre facility opening in 2021, to be used for container cargo. The facility, located in North Charleston on the former Navy Base, will increase port capacity by 50%.

Big Ship Ready[edit]

The South Carolina Ports Authority (SCPA) is investing hundreds of millions [11] of dollars into the Port of Charleston and constructing a new port terminal.[12] On March 2, 2018, construction officially began to deepen Charleston's harbor from 45 to 52 feet deep, with completion expected within the decade.[13][14][15]

In the beginning of September 2017 the largest cargo ship, named after President Theodore Roosevelt, traversed the Panama Canal for the first time.[16] The ship, of record-breaking size, arrived at the Port of Charleston on September 2.[17] The Roosevelt ship is 1,202 feet long, can haul as many as 14,855 containers and is part of the Ocean's Alliance South Atlantic Express service.[18] The Roosevelt shipped out of Shanghai, China, made stops in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, New York, and New Jersey before returning to Asia. U.S. Ports have made plans to expand following the $5.4 billion Panama Canal shipping lane that opened in 2016.[19]

Cruise Terminal and Union Pier Redevelopment[edit]

Cruise operations in the Port of Charleston are part of the South Carolina Ports Authority’s legislated mandate to increase maritime commerce. A study commissioned by the South Carolina Ports Authority projected that cruise operations could support 407 jobs and $37 million in economic benefits in 2010 in the Tri-County.[20] In May 2010, the Carnival Fantasy began home-porting the Carnival Fantasy in the Port of Charleston, until February 2016, when the Carnival Fantasy was replaced by the Carnival Ecstasy. In May 2019, the Carnival Sunshine began home-porting in the Port of Charleston, replacing the Carnival Ecstasy.[21]

To better handle ships, passengers, traffic and security requirements, the Ports Authority identified a need to improve and enhance the cruise terminal, which opened in 1973. Cruise ships have called Union Pier since 1913. The Ports Authority began hosting meetings, telling the community on how the agency envisioned to best develop an improved cruise facility. Through an extensive public process, including more than 100 meetings with neighbors and other stakeholder groups, the resulting Union Pier Concept Plan, which calls for the refurbishment of an existing warehouse on the North end of Union Pier, was endorsed unanimously by City Council in September 2010 and approved by the City of Charleston Board of Architectural Review.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SC Ports 2019 Annual Report https://scspa.com/wp-content/uploads/fy19-annual-report.pdf
  2. ^ U.S. Census Bureau Trade Data Branch report FT920, Tables 1 & 4 http://www.scspa.com/about/cargo-value/
  3. ^ History of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. Columbia, SC: The R.L. Bryan Company. 1991.
  4. ^ "Title 54 - Ports and Maritime Matters, Chapter 3. South Carolina State Ports Authority". South Carolina Code of Laws. South Carolina Legislature. Retrieved 29 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Cargo Value". SC Ports Authority. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  6. ^ "Ocean Carrier Services". www.scspa.com. Retrieved 2018-01-29.
  7. ^ "SC Ports achieves record container volume in 2019 fiscal year". Post & Courier. Jul 15, 2019.
  8. ^ "Capital Plan". SC Ports Authority. Retrieved 2020-05-18.
  9. ^ "Jasper Ocean Terminal plans on fast track". Business in Savannah. May 2, 2016. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  10. ^ "Charleston port officials: Jasper terminal 'long-term answer' for SC, Ga". The Post and Courier. Sep 30, 2018.
  11. ^ Wren, David. "Work at Charleston's new port terminal set to shift to construction phase". Post and Courier. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  12. ^ "Port of Charleston, SC plans for new $762M terminal". Construction Dive. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  13. ^ Wren, David. "Charleston Harbor dredging begins as quest for federal dollars heats up". Post and Courier. Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  14. ^ Mufson, Steven. "An expanded Panama Canal opens for giant ships". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  15. ^ "Port of Charleston, SC plans for new $762M terminal". Construction Dive. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  16. ^ Wren, David. "Another record-breaking ship headed to Port of Charleston". Post and Courier. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  17. ^ "CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt to inaugurate new Bayonne Bridge; largest ship ever to call at Port of NY-NJ". www.vesselfinder.com. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  18. ^ Wren, David. "Another record-breaking ship headed to Port of Charleston". Post and Courier. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  19. ^ "PANAMA CANAL EXPANDS, EAST COAST PORTS GROW - Global Trade Magazine". www.globaltrademag.com. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  20. ^ "Cruises float $37 million to Charleston area economy - Charleston Business News". Charleston Regional Development Alliance News & Blog. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
  21. ^ "Newer, larger Carnival Sunshine to call Charleston home beginning in 2019". The Post and Courier. Dec 7, 2017.

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