December 5, 2022

Charleston has deepest harbor on East Coast at 52 feet

SC Ports CEO Barbara Melvin, US Senator Tim Scott, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Governor Henry McMaster, US Senator Lindsey Graham, Brig. Gen. Daniel H. Hibner of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers celebrate the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. (Photo/SCPA/English Purcell)

CHARLESTON, SC — DEC. 5, 2022 — Charleston Harbor is now the deepest harbor on the East Coast at 52 feet.

At 52 feet, the biggest ships calling the East Coast can access South Carolina Ports’ terminals any time, any tide. Ships filled with record imports and heavy exports can seamlessly sail through Charleston Harbor to SC Ports’ terminals.

This depth makes SC Ports more competitive, helping to attract new ship services, first-in-calls and more cargo to South Carolina.

Governor Henry McMaster and other state elected leaders, Congressional Members, project partners, business and maritime community leaders, and SC Ports officials gathered to mark the successful completion of the project. The deepened harbor will support South Carolina’s economy and Southeast supply chains.

“It is a truly historical moment to be celebrating this monumental achievement. Charleston Harbor has been deepened to 52 feet,” SC Ports President and CEO Barbara Melvin said to cheers. “With the deepest harbor on the East Coast, we can efficiently work mega container ships at any tide. This investment will bring economic success to South Carolina for generations to come.”

South Carolina Ports and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District partnered on the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. The roughly $580 million infrastructure project was fully funded by state and federal dollars.

Deepening work began in 2018, thanks to $300 million the state set aside in 2012, followed by several infusions of federal funding. In 2019, Congress appropriated $138 million for the project, funding it to completion.

The Army Corps awarded five dredging contracts — three to Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Corp., one to Norfolk Dredging Co. and one to Marinex Construction Inc. — and the work was completed in four years.

Deepening began in the entrance channel and continued through the harbor up to SC Ports’ three container terminals.

The entrance channel was deepened to 54 feet to seamlessly handle vessels coming and going to SC Ports. A 52-foot depth was achieved in Charleston Harbor up to both Wando Welch Terminal and Leatherman Terminal, and a 48-foot depth was achieved between Leatherman Terminal and North Charleston Terminal.

Turning basins were also widened in front of Wando Welch Terminal and Leatherman Terminal, enabling ships to easily pass one another and turn around without restrictions.

With the deepening project complete, SC Ports can handle the record cargo volumes and mega container ships calling on the Port of Charleston today and in the future.

“Our deepening project was completed faster than any other project of its kind in the nation. It required tremendous dedication, collaboration and creativity from everyone involved over the past decade,” Melvin said. “We had an amazing project partner — the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District — as well as the dredging companies, environmental groups and business partners who worked alongside us. Thank you to Governor Henry McMaster, the SC Legislature, our Congressional delegation and the Obama and Trump Administrations for fully funding this transformational project.”

“On behalf of the board, I want to congratulate the entire SC Ports team and all our project partners on successfully deepening Charleston Harbor to 52 feet,” SC Ports Board Chairman Bill Stern said. “The deepening project took years of effort, planning and collaboration. It would not have happened without the support of Governor Henry McMaster, the SC Legislature and our Congressional delegation. Thank you to everyone who worked to make this successful, ensuring we will remain a top 10 U.S. container port.”

“Many great things come from humble beginnings, and Charleston Harbor is no exception,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Johannes, USACE, Charleston District, District Engineer and Commanding Officer. “In 1760, during the age of sail, the harbor averaged a depth of only 12 feet. Nearly 100 years later, in 1851,

US Senator Lindsey Graham and SC Ports CEO Barbara Melvin commemorate the successful completion of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. (Photo/SCPA/English Purcell)

the harbor underwent its first deepening to 17 feet to accommodate larger, heavier steam vessels and the World’s first hydraulic dredge, the General Moultrie, was employed. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers working with our great partners has deepened the Charleston Harbor to a depth of 52 feet and the harbor can now safely accommodate the largest cargo ships in the world at any time, thus strengthening the economy of South Carolina and the nation.”

Notable quotes from elected leaders:

“South Carolina can now proudly say that we have the deepest harbor on the East Coast. The 52-foot depth gives South Carolina a major edge in recruiting new jobs and investment while announcing to the world that this is the place to do business. This was the epitome of a team effort, involving members of our federal delegation – led by U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham – the General Assembly, and the Ports Authority leadership team.
— Governor Henry McMaster

“It is a historic day in South Carolina. After years of effort, we have finally achieved our goal. When we started this project in 2011, we understood that failure was simply not an option. The future of jobs, in every corner of our state and across a range of industries from manufacturing to agriculture to everything in between, hung in the balance. Today, we take time to remember the important milestones, look back at the hard work that brought us to this point, and celebrate our success in completing this project. I want to congratulate the South Carolina Ports Authority leadership and thank all the Republicans and Democrats in Washington and Columbia who worked together over the last 11 years to get this done.  I want to thank the mayors and town councils who spoke out in support of the Port. It was a total team effort. This completion ensures that the Port of Charleston will remain a cornerstone of South Carolina’s economy for decades to come.”
— US Senator Lindsey Graham

“The importance of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project cannot be overstated. By successfully deepening our harbor to 52 feet, we have ensured that one of our greatest assets will continue to generate revenue for the Palmetto State and create opportunities for South Carolinians.”
— US Senator Tim Scott

“We worked collaboratively to secure the appropriations needed to fully fund this critical deepening project. The Port of Charleston now has the deepest harbor on the East Coast, providing a significant competitive advantage for our state as we can handle bigger ships and more cargo. SC Ports are vital to the economy of South Carolina, and I am proud to support efforts to ensure that they continue to thrive.”
— Congressman James E. Clyburn

“A well-run port is a calling card for businesses looking to expand and build new facilities in South Carolina. We celebrate the successful completion of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project and all the port-driven growth and jobs it will bring to our state.”
— Congresswoman Nancy Mace

“I am grateful to see that South Carolina Ports and the US Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District have successfully completed the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. Having the deepest harbor on the East Coast will help grow the economic impact of the port, which already supports thousands of jobs and extensive industry development across our state.”
— Congressman Joe Wilson

“I am excited for the Port of Charleston and for the people of South Carolina that we now have the deepest harbor on the East Coast. This 52-foot depth benefits port-dependent businesses throughout the Palmetto State and across the Third District. All South Carolinians stand to gain from this project. This is an issue I have worked on for the entirety of my time in Congress, and we are proud to have gotten this across the finish line.”
— Congressman Jeff Duncan

“By investing in our infrastructure, we are investing in our future. The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project ensures we will continue growing our economy. I appreciate the work the South Carolina Ports Authority is doing to help move our state and nation forward.”
— Congressman Ralph Norman

“SC Ports is a major economic driver for our region, generating a $33 billion impact in the Upstate. The completion of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project will support our companies and attract new business, creating more economic prosperity throughout our region and state.”
— Congressman William Timmons

“The successful completion of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is the result of years of hard work and partnership. The General Assembly’s commitment to fully fund the state’s portion of this project was instrumental in making this project a reality for the benefit of South Carolinians.”
— SC House Speaker Murrell Smith

“SC Ports’ growth creates a ripple effect across our state, bringing new economic development, investment, and jobs for our citizens. Our newly deepened harbor will generate continued successes in South Carolina.”
— SC Senate President Thomas Alexander

“An investment in the port is an investment for South Carolina. The SC Legislature funded the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project to further enhance our port’s competitiveness. A deeper harbor can handle bigger ships filled with imports and exports, creating economic growth across our state.”
— SC Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey

“The Palmetto State is fortunate to have the 8th largest container port in the country. It is incumbent on us to ensure our world-class port remains competitive. I am proud of the way our state worked together to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet to benefit port-dependent businesses and create more jobs in our communities.”
— SC Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto

“In 2012, the SC Legislature had the foresight to set aside $300 million for the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. Ten years later, we are celebrating Charleston having the deepest harbor on the East Coast at 52 feet. SC Ports can now handle fully loaded, mega container ships. Our commitment to build vital port infrastructure will ensure South Carolina remains globally competitive for decades to come.”
— Senator Larry Grooms, chairman of the S.C. Senate Transportation Committee and the Review and Oversight Commission on the South Carolina State Ports Authority

“The SC Legislature fully funded the state portion of the Charleston Harbor Deepening Project. We now have the deepest harbor on the East Coast. This a huge competitive advantage for port-dependent businesses and a true economic gamechanger for our state.”
— Chairman Bill Sandifer, Chairman of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and vice chairman of the Review and Oversight Commission on the South Carolina State Ports Authority

About South Carolina Ports Authority

South Carolina Ports Authority, established by the state's General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport and intermodal facilities in Charleston, Dillon, Georgetown and Greer. As an economic development engine for the state, Port operations facilitate 225,000 statewide jobs and generate nearly $63.4 billion in annual economic activity. SC Ports is soon to be home to the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast at 52 feet. SC Ports is an industry leader in delivering speed-to-market, seamless processes and flexibility to ensure reliable operations, big ship handling, efficient market reach and environmental responsibility. Please visit to learn more about SC Ports.