You See Ships Along The Seashore 

Ever wonder what’s on those giant ships, coming and going off the shore of Sullivan’s Island? SiP took a trip to the South Carolina Ports Authority to bring you a glimpse of what’s inside the colossal containers. By Mimi Wood Photos by Jason Ogden


“It’s crazy how close those huge ships are to shore,” remarks Lauren Zurilla, a devoted Sullivan’s Island sun worshiper. “When you are sitting on the beach and one of those things comes around the corner, you can’t help but gulp.”


Twenty ocean vessel lines, servicing 150 nations around the world, sail to and from the various South Carolina Ports Authority’s terminals in Charleston Harbor, and they all pass by our island. Sometimes so close, you feel you could reach out and pluck them o­ the water.


 It would be easy to think of these humongous ships, many the length of four football fields, as being far removed from our tranquil island lifestyle.  ink again.


That aromatic custom-blended brew at Café Paname? Those co­ffee beans aren’t  flying in from Ethiopia and Brazil.  e top-notch Perle hops that give Island Coastal Lager its pure, clean flavor? Crossing the ocean from Germany. Many things you use daily — from your electronics to your favorite beach chair — are imported, and many of them come in on those ships.

What Goes Out

 Typically, heavier than the imports are what’s going out. Containerized cargo, shipped primarily from the Wando Terminal, includes Samsung washing machines, Columbia Farms and Perdue poultry, and paper — literally tons of paper. Ginormous Michelin tires, too big to ‑ t in a closed container, perch atop the ship’s stack in an open-air “can.” Breakbulk cargo, including monstrous, shrink-wrapped GE turbines and BMW X-series cars depart Charleston from Columbus Street, bound for China, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Israel, Belgium, England and Germany. Every manufacturer has a story of why they’re located in the Palmetto State, and the port plays an integral part in each.


“We have a reputation for reliability and efficiency of operation,” says Erin Dhand, SCPA Corporate Communication and Community A­ airs Manager. “We strive to  ow our containers in and out as quickly as possible,” she says, indicating that as many as six cranes are concurrently loading and unloading a ship at any time.


 “We are blessed with a naturally wide, deep harbor, right at the mouth of the ocean,” Dhand says.  at prime location gives Charleston an advantage over other ports, such as Savannah or Baltimore, as the behemoth vessels don’t have to navigate a river or bay. Charleston’s one limitation, her harbor’s depth, will be fixed by 2020 with the completion of a $300 million deepening project, the first dredge of which occurred in February 2018. Once completed, the harbor will be the deepest on the East Coast, according to Dhand, able to accommodate vessels of nearly any size, without tidal restrictions. Presently, because of its 45’ depth, some of the larger ships must wait for a high tide before entering or exiting the harbor, which is when we often see them hanging out o­ our beaches.

The port plays a critical role in the South Carolina economy, adding $53 billion in statewide economic value every year. One in every 11 jobs is tied to the SCPA, and pay is 40 percent higher than the average state wage. Governor Henry McMaster summed it up best, recently tweeting, “Of all the assets we have, the Port is one of the grandest.”