Major ports get big-ship ready - Global Trade Magazine
  June 6th, 2016 | Written by

Major ports get big-ship ready

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  • Post-Panamax hits the big time
  • Major ports embrace the beasts
  • Big Ships will be given a wider berth

Call it a race to the finish. After nearly a decade of construction, the widened Panama Canal is slated to open this June—an action that has spurred ports around the globe to take measures to prepare for the world’s biggest ships. Whether deepening their harbor channels, renovating their terminal facilities or remaining confident in their ability to handle Post-Panamax ships, below is the latest update in preparations of many of the ports affected by the expanded locks.


Getting big-ship-ready led JAXPORT officials to initiate a number of port renovations, including purchasing three new Post-Panamax cranes—slated for delivery in July—and modernizing the terminal berths. Roy Schleicher, JAXPORT’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer, says the Jacksonville, Florida-based port is also moving forward in the dredging process and will commence operations in early 2017. “So that’s a positive and, of course, we’ll be dredging roughly 13 miles,” Schleicher says. Completion is slated for 2020 or 2021.


Thanks to a public-private partnership with Ports America Chesapeake, the Port of Baltimore is now ready for the world’s largest vessels, according to port spokesman Richard Scher. Baltimore—which has boasted a 50-foot-deep channel since the ’90s—currently has four Super-Post-Panamax cranes in service and has welcomed a 9,300-TEU ship that traveled through the Suez Canal. “Other East Coast ports have hurdles that they still need to overcome,” Scher says, “but we’re in a very competitive position right now.”


Welcoming Post-Panamax ships isn’t anything new—11 of these vessels visit Charleston each week—but infrastructure enhancements are already under way in preparation of serious growth. South Carolina Ports Authority spokeswoman Erin Dhand reveals that the Port of Charleston will see $2 billion in new capital investments over the next decade, including deepening the harbor to 52 feet and renovating the container terminal. The port will also soon house two new Super-Post-Panamax cranes.


A major hub for energy products, the Southwest Texas port is taking steps to meet demand for such commodities—many of which are transported on outsize ships. The Port of Corpus Christi’s Chief Commercial Officer Jarl Pedersen reveals that the port will undergo $1 billion in infrastructure enhancements over the next decade—with key improvements including the construction of a new rail yard with 8,500-foot-long sidings and deepening the ship channel from 45 feet to 52 feet. Completion of the latter is expected in late 2018.


Infrastructural inefficiencies—namely the fact that Post-Panamax ships arriving from Europe and South America must be lightly loaded—led port authorities to launch a massive renovation campaign. Port Everglades Director Steven Cernak says the goals of the project include deepening the main navigation channels to between 48 feet and 50 feet from their current 42-foot depth and “widening the entrance channel and other narrow areas in the port for safety.” Although construction is still in the preliminary phase, Congressional authorization is expected this year.


The Mississippi-based port—once regarded as simply a banana port off the Gulf of Mexico—has come a long way in recent years, says Port of Gulfport CEO Jonathan Daniels. Preparing for an influx of traffic led port officials to embark on a $570 million restoration plan, which involves the construction of wharfs, terminals, intermodal container transfer facilities and three new ship-to-shore gantry cranes—the latter of which came to fruition in March of this year. Such renovations are slated for completion in late 2017.


Since 2004, the Canadian port has benefited from more than $250 million in infrastructure enhancements to prepare for the world’s biggest ships, reveals spokesman Lane Farguson. Fortunately, the Port of Halifax already has one major advantage going for it: The ice-free harbor is naturally deep. “There are 52-foot drafts at each container terminal,” Farguson adds, “and [our] terminal operators have invested in Post-Panamax cranes to accommodate larger vessels.” Additional upgrades include expanded piers, new gates and truck-marshaling facilities.


The port undergoes billion-dollar capital improvement projects every five years—and enhancement efforts at the Port of Houston remain strong. “We are continuing to modernize our facilities,” says port spokeswoman Lisa Ashley, pointing to the port’s four new Super-Post-Panamax cranes and dredging activities at the Barbours Cut and Bayport Container Terminals. In September of 2015, the Barbours Cut Channel was deepened to 45 feet and the Bayport Channel project (also at a depth of 45 feet) is slated for completion imminently.


North America’s leading seaport exhibited its big-ship readiness in December, welcoming the behemoth CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin. The arrival of the 18,000-TEU vessel, which marked the largest container ship to ever make port in North America, proved that the Port of Los Angeles has the capacity to “efficiently accommodate megaships,” says Executive Director Gene Seroka. Such capabilities were further on display this spring when the Benjamin Franklin and fellow megaship Maersk Edmonton returned to the port—voyages Seroka anticipates continuing in the future.


Authorities have invested $125 million in port renovations since 2012, including a cool $67 million for container terminal infrastructure enhancements, reveals Port of New Orleans CEO Gary LaGrange. “We are big-ship ready,” LaGrange says, citing the port’s new Post-Panamax gantry cranes and the Mississippi River Intermodal Terminal rail yard. The port is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the impact of dredging the Mississippi River to 50 feet—a move that would make it the deepest channel on the Gulf of Mexico.


In addition to raising the Bayonne Bridge roadway from 151 feet to 215 feet—an investment exceeding $1.3 billion—the port is upgrading its infrastructure to prepare for an influx of Post-Panamax ships. Bethann Rooney, assistant director of the port’s Commerce Department, says such endeavors highlight a decade-long, $6 billion-plus commitment. “We have right-sized the channel—deepening it to 50 feet—as well as the berth, the terminal, the roadway and the railway to make the supply chain move efficiently,” she says.


Benefiting from more than $1 billion in infrastructure enhancements, PortMiami is fully capable of handling the world’s biggest ships, says port CEO Juan Kuryla. “A new big-ship era is here,” he says, with the port directly linked to the highway system via the PortMiami Tunnel and benefiting from Super-Post-Panamax gantry cranes and a 50-to-52-foot-deep harbor—up from 42 feet. Kuryla says the completion of PortMiami’s deep-dredge project “cannot be overstated,” adding that the port has positioned itself as a major hub for maritime trade.


With Post-Panamax ships accounting for roughly one-third of Savannah’s port calls, the port has taken numerous measures to stay ahead of demand. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently deepening the Savannah Harbor to 47 feet at mean low tide (54 feet at high tide)—with an initial contract involving dredging the outer harbor to 49 feet at mean low water. “Once the deepening is complete, megaships will be able to call on Savannah with heavier loads,” says Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Curtis Foltz.


Eastern Canada’s largest port, Port Saint John is launching a seven-year, CAD$205 million modernization plan that will enable it to accept ships with 49-foot drafts, reveals port CEO Jim Quinn. Under the plan, the port will install cranes to improve cargo-handling capabilities and deepen the main channel to 32 feet. “As soon as we do that, we’ll be [developing] a new, 12,000-foot intermodal yard, as well as a technologically advanced trucking entrance that leads directly onto the highway system,” Quinn says.


Offering 50-foot deep channels and “Suez-class” container cranes, the Port of Virginia is already a haven for megaships, says Virginia Port Authority CEO John Reinhart. He estimates that by the end of fiscal-year 2016, the port will have invested $135 million in infrastructural improvements, including crane installations and cargo-conveyance equipment purchases. Port authorities also inked a deal with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last year to study the benefits of dredging the Norfolk Harbor to 55 feet—a study slated for completion by 2018. n