Sometime Friday afternoon, a ship will cruise into Commencement Bay carrying unusual cargo — the largest container cranes on the West Coast.
The Hong Kong-flagged Zhen Hua 28 will slowly pull in with four huge cranes welded to its frame, bound for the Port of Tacoma’s Husky Terminal.
At 295 feet tall, the cranes are designed to accommodate the most massive ships in the world,so-called super post-Panamax vessels. When the booms are raised, the cranes are 434 feet high — taller than the fictional monster Godzilla but short of the Space Needle’s 605-foot height.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The cranes’ arrival will be highly visible from many public locations throughout Puget Sound, starting with the ship’s arrival in Port Angeles on Friday morning. There, the ship will take on a member of the Puget Sound Pilots, who will guide it into Commencement Bay.
If the schedule holds, Zhen Hua 28 could arrive in the bay by early Friday afternoon.
“It will remain anchored in the bay for a couple of days, then come to Husky Terminal for offloading — which will also take a few days,” said Northwest Seaport Alliance spokeswoman Tara Mattina via email.
Cranes moving into Puget Sound on Friday
Moving the cranes into the bay is no easy feat, said Puget Sound Pilots president and captain Eric Von Brandenfels. One of 50 captains with Puget Sound Pilots will take the helm of of the ship at Port Angeles, where it enters state waters.
In 2004, he piloted the ship that brought new cranes to Pierce County Terminal.
“I recall it being very (unstable) and wondering how it made it across the vast Pacific ocean,” Von Brandenfels said via email.
The Zhen Hua 28 is a re-purposed tanker. It has specially located weights, called ballast, to compensate for the ship and cargo’s high center of gravity and allow for more stability on the wide ocean. The ship’s trip here took it south of Hawaii and up the North American coast.
“It will be a slower ship than most, and the visibility is obstructed forward, and for the pilot … it will be a connection to the cranes for a long time,” Von Brandenfels said. “We do about 7,250 assignments per year, this will be a memorable one.”
Years of preparation
Tacomans may remember the months and months of repetitive pinging they endured from 2016 until well into 2017. That work drove 1,241 piles into the Tideflats mud as part of a pier reconfiguration project to create one contiguous berth. It will soon be able to serve two post-Panamax vessels at once, which can hold up to 18,000 20-foot-equivalent container units.
These massive ships are longer than the Empire State Building is tall, and wider than a football field.
The cranes could become operational in mid-June, Mattina said. As for when the larger ships arrive? None are scheduled just yet.
“We know that they won’t come here unless we have the capabilities,” Mattina said.
The Northwest Seaport Alliance, a partnership between the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, voted to approve the purchase of four cranes at a cost of around $50 million. Planning for the cranes has been more than a decade in the making. Super post-Pamanax cranes can reach across 24 containers on a ship. The Port of Seattle has had such cranes since 2011.
One of the Port of Tacoma’s customers has been offloading cargo at Seattle’s Terminal 18 because Tacoma has not had the infrastructure to handle the business, said Port of Tacoma Commission President Don Meyer.
The cooperative nature of the Northwest Seaport Alliance means that ship will be able to return to Tacoma once construction finishes, he said.
“It demonstrates our ability to accommodate the customer in the Puget Sound,” Meyer said, “and not argue about who wins or loses.”
The cranes were assembled in China, with parts from the cranes coming from Europe, according to the seaport alliance. Container cranes are not made in the United States.
If you miss this opportunity to view the cranes coming to the Port of Tacoma, four more of these super post-Panamax cranes are on order for Husky Terminal. They could arrive in the middle of next year.
How to view the ship
While Mother Nature could have other ideas, there should be plenty of opportunities to spy the vessel bringing four massive cranes into the Port of Tacoma. Here are a number of viewing locations, listed from north to south:
▪ Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, near Port Angeles
▪ Fort Casey Historical Park, on Whidbey Island
▪ Point No Point County Park, near Hansville
▪ Point Robinson off of Vashon Island
▪ Saltwater State Park in Des Moines
▪ Dash Point State Park in Federal Way
▪ Browns Point Lighthouse Park in Northeast Tacoma
State parks require a $10 daily access fee.
Viewers can also track the Zhen Hua 28 with smartphone apps like Marine Traffic and Ship Finder.
Source: Northwest Seaport Alliance