It is 2016. The Maersk Dunbar II, a massive container ship nearly a quarter of a mile long, is plying the deep blue waters of the Atlantic.
Eight days earlier, the Dunbar II had traversed the Panama Canal. It now approaches the eastern coast of the U.S., with plans to unload its retail cargo there while taking on containers filled with U.S. exports.
The vessel’s hull, drafting some 47 feet of water, drives through the through the waves with a purpose — a purpose driven by the economics of trade, by profit calculations of analysts from Shanghai and Singapore to Hamburg, Rotterdam and Dubai.
Its sister ships — smaller by half — once called on the port of Savannah in droves. In 2013, an average of 14 ships per week that had passed through the Panama Canal unloaded cargo in Savannah.
But the Maersk Dunbar II won’t be coming to Savannah. Instead, it will unload its 12,000 containers in Norfolk, Va. — because Savannah’s harbor is, quite simply, not deep enough.
And that, as they say, is that.
If Atlanta is the beating heart of Georgia’s economy, then the Savannah River is surely its pulsating aorta. Savannah is the second-busiest container port on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, after New York City, and the fourth-busiest in the U.S.
It does more business than the ports of Miami, Port Everglades and Jacksonville combined. Through its proximity to the major interstate trucking routes (I-16 and I-95) and significant rail infrastructure, it is the easiest port in the U.S. to allow shipments to reach the major population centers of Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Memphis and Orlando.
The port employs 352,000 Georgians, contributes directly to $32.4 billion in the state’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) — 7.8 percent of the state’s total GDP — and has the largest concentration of distribution centers of any port on the East Coast.
Mired in politics
Nevertheless, the world’s economies are evolving. And this critical economic driver for our region and our state is in grave danger of being mired in the impenetrable morass of political intrigue that characterizes modern-day America.