Port of Tacoma

First megaships call in California ports; Puget Sound ports may be next

The Benjamin Franklin sits docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Saturday. The Benjamin Franklin is the largest container vessel to ever call at a U.S. port. It is longer than the Empire State Building and wider than an American football field.
The Benjamin Franklin sits docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Saturday. The Benjamin Franklin is the largest container vessel to ever call at a U.S. port. It is longer than the Empire State Building and wider than an American football field. Bloomberg

The United States joins the small fraternity of nations hosting a new breed of giant ships when the containership Benjamin Franklin called on the ports of Los Angeles and will move to Oakland after Christmas.

The Port of Seattle could join that select group of ports handling those megaships early next year.

The Benjamin Franklin, operated by the French containership line CMA CGM, is the first of a new class of container carriers capable of carrying some 18,000, 20-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) to call on a U.S. port.

The huge ships, longer than the largest aircraft carrier, are the latest trend in the world shipping business. The first of those ships entered service two years ago between Asia and select European ports.

The megaships are more efficient because they require smaller crews per container carried and because they call on fewer ports loading and unloading more cargo at each terminal.

Northwest Seaport Alliance spokeswoman Tara Mattina said this month that the ports alliance is talking with CMA CGM about bringing a megaship to the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 18 in February.

CMA CGM spokeswoman Blair Hennessy said the shipping line has put Puget Sound on the Benjamin Franklin’s second voyage itinerary.

“The company does expect to call Seattle on the second voyage. It is important since the company wishes to work with all major West Coast ports in testing capabilities to determine future plans,” Hennessy said.

The Northwest Seaport Alliance is a new combine of the ports of Tacoma and Seattle charged with operating and marketing shipping terminals at both ports. One of the reasons the two ports allied their terminal operations is to efficiently prepare their terminals for the new larger ships that are replacing smaller vessels on major world trade routes.

The largest containership to call on a Puget Sound port until now is the CMA CGM Callisto which has a capacity of 11,400 TEUs. That ship is 1,193 feet long and 150 feet wide.

The largest existing warships, U.S. Navy supercarriers, are 1,092 feet long. Typical containerships calling on the ports of Tacoma and Seattle have a capacity of about 8,000 TEUs.

According to the alliance, Terminal 18 is a 196-acre container terminal on Elliott Bay in Seattle. The marine terminal features 10 cranes, seven of which are the large super-post-Panamax and three post-Panamax, 50-foot water depth, on-dock and near-dock rail and a berth measuring 4,440 feet.

“Ships continue to get larger, and we are ready for them,” John Wolfe, Northwest Seaport Alliance chief executive officer said when the Callisto arrived.

Mattina said the Port of Tacoma terminals also could handle a single megaship at a time. But the two ports are planning for terminal updates at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 and the Port of Tacoma’s Husky Terminal to give them the ability to handle two of the super ships simultaneously.

The Benjamin Franklin, delivered to CMA CGM by a Chinese shipyard in early December, is 1,306 feet long, 177 feet wide and draws 52.5 feet of water when fully loaded.

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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