SCPA officially opens Hugh K. Leatherman terminal

South Carolina Ports welcomed the first vessel to the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal on 9 April 2021, marking the first container terminal to open in the U.S. since 2009.


Operations launched on 30 March with the arrival of the first container, followed by the first ship arrival on Friday with Hapag-Lloyd’s Yorktown Express.

Photo: SC Ports/Walter Lagarenne

“The Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal is an investment in the future of South Carolina that will spur economic development, create jobs, and further our state’s position as an international business destination for years to come,” Governor Henry McMaster said.

The Leatherman Terminal, which has been 20 years in the making, is a generational milestone for SC Ports and for South Carolina. The terminal sits along the Cooper River in North Charleston, S.C., near Charleston Harbor.

The Leatherman Terminal can efficiently work the biggest ships calling on East Coast ports. Phase One adds 700,000 TEUs of throughput capacity to the Port of Charleston.

SC Ports CEO Jim Newsome said that the opening of the terminal comes at just the right time, as U.S. container ports continue to handle unprecedented cargo volumes amid strong consumer demand. SC Ports had an all-time cargo record in March, with a 50% year-over-year increase in loaded imports.

Capabilities and capacity

The terminal strengthens SC Ports’ big-ship capabilities and provides much-needed capacity to the East Coast.

Its 1,400-foot berth can handle a 20,000-TEU vessel. Five electric ship-to-shore cranes with 169 feet of lift height and 228 feet of outreach stand on the berth, ready to move cargo on and off container ships. These cranes are among the tallest on the East Coast.

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The Leatherman Terminal’s 47-acre container yard has 25 hybrid rubber-tired gantry cranes and eight empty container handlers to efficiently move cargo boxes around the terminal. The rubber-tired gantry cranes are designed to reduce emissions and energy consumption. 

At full buildout, the $2 billion Leatherman Terminal will have three berths and 286 acres, adding 2.4 million TEUs of annual throughput capacity, doubling current capacity.

Photo: SCPA/Walter Lagarenne

State impact

The $1 billion investment to build Phase One is among the state’s biggest economic development projects to date. Its impact will be felt by waterfront workers and S.C. businesses for decades to come, according to SCPA.

The Leatherman Terminal is said to greatly enhance South Carolina’s supply chain.

“SC Ports has long been the economic engine of South Carolina, and the opening of the Leatherman Terminal will generate more investments in our communities and high-paying jobs for South Carolinians,” Sen. Hugh K. Leatherman, the terminal’s namesake, said.

“SC Ports has seen tremendous growth over the past decade as bigger cargo ships continually call on the Port of Charleston. The modern container terminal greatly expands SC Ports’ capacity and capabilities.”

“The Leatherman Terminal, combined with the many strategic infrastructure investments made by the port, will have a positive impact on our state for generations to come.”

The Leatherman Terminal is part of SC Ports’ $2 billion infrastructure investment plan, which also involves enhancing Wando Welch Terminal. With these combined investments, SC Ports can handle four 14,000-TEU vessels simultaneously.

The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project is on track to achieve 52 feet of depth this year, making it the deepest harbor on the East Coast. SC Ports also looks to develop near-dock rail capabilities with the future Navy Base Intermodal Facility, located about a mile from the Leatherman Terminal, and an inner-harbor barge system.