SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) -- Georgia's seaports are on track to finish the 2014 fiscal year with record cargo volumes as third-quarter numbers show big growth capped by the ports' busiest month ever in terms of total tonnage being shipped to and from the docks.
The Georgia Ports Authority says it handled 21.8 million tons of imports and exports during the first nine months of the fiscal year that started July 1, a pace that's 8.4 percent ahead of the same period in 2013. That includes 2.61 million tons of cargo that moved through the state's ports at Savannah and Brunswick in March. It's the most weight the ports have ever seen in a single month.
The numbers put Georgia's ports in close reach of the record 27.23 million tons they handled in the last fiscal year. Curtis Foltz, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said he's confident that record, and others, will be surpassed when the current fiscal year ends June 30.
"There's no question in my mind we'll finish the fiscal year with records in overall tonnage, containers and automobile volume," Foltz said.
Cargo containers packed with everything from retail electronics to frozen chickens have made Savannah one of the nation's busiest ports. Since 2006, Savannah has moved more containerized cargo than any U.S. port other than New York, Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.
Georgia port officials say Savannah handled 2.31 million containers of imports and exports during the first nine months of the current fiscal year, up 6.8 percent from the same period a year ago. Foltz said he's certain the Port of Savannah for the first time will reach a milestone 3 million containers in 2014. It was just eight years ago that Savannah surpassed 2 million containers and vaulted past Charleston, S.C., to become the fourth-busiest U.S. container port.
Also on target for a record-smashing 2014 are the number of cars, trucks and tractors being loaded and unloaded at Georgia ports. More than 503,000 units of such roll-on, roll-off cargo - from Subaru station wagons to Caterpillar tractors - have moved through the ports so far this fiscal year. That's an increase of 7.4 percent compared to the first nine months of fiscal 2013, putting Georgia in position to break last year's record of 636,942 auto and machinery units.
The growth is being fueled by automakers shipping increasing volumes of cars into Brunswick, now the No. 3 U.S. port for auto imports, to fill dealer inventories across the Southeast.
Foltz said rising consumer demand and other upward economic trends in the U.S. and abroad helped push Georgia's port growth to unexpected levels so far in 2014. He said March isn't typically a month that port officials would expect to set record volumes, considering container traffic tends to peak in the fall months before the holidays, but was bolstered by strong trade across-the-board in containers, autos and bulk goods such as corn and wood pellets.
"These volumes have surprised us," Foltz said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you this is the kind of growth we expected."