Biggest ship ever to visit East Coast coming this week
• By Robert McCabe
The biggest ship to pass through the expanded Panama Canal since it opened nearly a year ago, as well as the biggest ship ever to call on the U.S. East Coast, is expected to knock on the door of the port – its first stop since leaving Panama – at about 2 a.m. Monday, according to the Coast Guard.
It’s expected to pull up to its berth at Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth at about 4:30 a.m.
And it won’t be here long. It’s expected to leave between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesday, en route to Savannah, Ga. Then it’s on to Charleston, S.C., its final U.S. port call before heading out across the Atlantic toward Cape Good Hope at the southern end of Africa, en route to Asia.
Some people are going out of their way – and then some – to take it all in.
Edmund Armentrout and his wife, Tori, are so excited about the COSCO Development pulling into port that they’re driving six hours from the Roanoke area to see it. They’re planning to stay Sunday night in Portsmouth, then book it over to Norfolk on Monday for an 11 a.m. Victory Rover cruise that’ll pass right by the ship.
After visiting some industrial ports on a cruise to Australia and New Zealand, the retired couple found themselves fascinated by the container ships they saw and the technology surrounding them.
“This is really an opportunity to see something we’re unlikely to ever see again,” Armentrout said Friday.
Those interested in watching the ship’s approach in real time can do so at this web page – bit.ly/2nnarCu – at www.marinetraffic.com, an online ship-tracking website.
Because of the ship’s size – its 1,200 feet long and 158½ feet wide – the Coast Guard will shut down Thimble Shoal Channel, which straddles the southern tunnel of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, during its passage inbound and restrict the channel to one-way traffic only when the vessel leaves on Tuesday.
How long is 1,200 feet? Equal in length to the Eiffel Tower or eight Statues of Liberty, according to the Panama Canal Authority.
The arrival of the COSCO Development is a validation, in many ways, of the bigger-ships-are-coming mantra that port officials and some industry experts have been chanting for years.
The ship has a capacity of 13,092 containers, measured in standard, 20-foot units, or TEUs, an industry benchmark. That’s about 3,000 more TEUs than the MOL Benefactor can handle; that ship broke the port’s 10,000-TEU barrier last July.
Work-horse container ships coursing across the Atlantic are still generally in the 8,000- to 9,000-TEU range, said Joe Harris, a Port of Virginia spokesman.
A number of factors, however, have conspired to bring bigger ships our way, including the widening of the Panama Canal and the consolidation of ocean carriers as slowing global trade and overcapacity slashed profits and made the use of larger ships, which can move more stuff more economically, a no-brainer.
As more of the world’s biggest container ships – those in the 18,000- to 20,000-plus-TEU range – move into the Asia-Europe trade lane, they’re bumping still-huge vessels like the COSCO Development elsewhere, like onto Asia-U.S. East Coast services.
The big ship’s arrival here won’t be a one-off, either: It’s part of a weekly service by one of the new alliances and it means that a ship in the same size range now will begin calling on the port every week.
While this particular big-ship service will also continue to call on Savannah and Charleston, it won’t include the Port of New York/New Jersey – the largest East Coast port – because of its Bayonne Bridge problem, which restricts passage to 9,800-TEU ships and less due to its airdraft clearance.
This week, however, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that the $1.6 billion project to raise the bridge would wrap up by June 30, six months ahead of schedule, enabling ships with capacities of up to 18,000 TEUs to pass under it.
That’s a big deal to Virginia and the other big East Coast ports because ocean carriers arrange vessel calls in “rotations,” stringing visits to multiple ports at a time. Once New York/New Jersey can accommodate the larger ships, enabling larger discharges of cargo at a time into the port’s huge market, shippers are expected to waste no time capitalizing on the opportunity.
Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port of New York/New Jersey, said there was no chance of a COSCO Development-size ship calling on the port before June 30.
The lifting of the size restriction on the bridge is expected to take effect by that date, however, which he said was “extremely firm.”