The Port of Charleston today commissioned a new, hydraulic passenger loading bridge to safely transition cruise guests from the passenger terminal to the cruise ship’s loading doors.

Passengers debarking the Carnival Fantasy, which has been home ported in Charleston since last May, were the first to use the state-of-the-art gangway. Sweden-based FMT Aircraft Gate Support Systems AB delivered the loading bridge, which features a hydraulic system to change the elevation and match up with doors on various ships.

“Charleston is an extremely attractive destination with a unique blend of history, culture and natural features ideal for both embarkation and port-of-call cruisers,” said Peter Lehman, vice president of cruise business and real estate for the South Carolina Ports Authority.

This more than $2-million investment comes as the Port of Charleston plans another major investment in its cruise infrastructure – a new cruise terminal.

The Ports Authority last month selected a design team for the new terminal, which would replace Charleston’s existing cruise facility. Charleston’s new cruise terminal will shift north on the terminal property while remaining in the heart of the historic district in a converted 151,200-square foot building with ample, adjacent surface parking.

This new terminal will remake Charleston’s cruise operation, allowing both vessels and passengers to be handled much more efficiently and effectively. Following the opening of the new terminal, targeted for late 2012, the Ports Authority would initiate redevelopment of approximately 30 acres of property on the southern end of Union Pier.

The Port of Charleston expects to welcome 89 cruise ships this year, including 21 port-of-calls by 15 different cruise ships.