NEW BREED OF GIANT MEGASHIPS STRAIN U.S. PORTS
LONG BEACH Spanning the length of four football fields and rising 20 stories, the giant container ship that tied up here is an awe-inspiring sight.
The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin — the name seems as long as the ship — is one of a new breed. Container ships are growing ever larger, testing not only the limits of naval architecture but the infrastructure of the ports at which they would call.
American ports are scrambling to dredge channels and raise container cranes as they vie to handle these new ships.
Shipping line CMA CGM has been sending the Franklin, the pride of its fleet, to West Coast ports to send the message that the largest of container ships are on the way and that now is the time to invest whatever it takes to accommodate them.
In Long Beach, officials say they will have three berths in coming months big enough to handle container superships.
But it’s still a struggle. The Franklin was stacked eight containers high, two layers short of capacity, because the terminal’s cranes haven’t yet been raised.
This port has already scraped channels deeper and is raising a key bridge by 45 feet — at a cost of $1 billion.
“If there was any doubt we are big-ship ready, that ship puts that debate to rest,” said Lori Ann Guzman, president of the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, with the Franklin looming over her shoulder.
Other ports are making the same claim. The port of Miami, under the banner “big ships welcome,” said last year that it is spending more than $1 billion raising cranes and dredging. Charleston, S.C., has its own dredging project.
Port officials see it as a necessity as nowadays larger container ships rule the waves.
The Franklin, as wide as a 12-lane highway, totes the equivalent of 18,000 20-foot containers. Those boxes haul everything from toys and tires from China to electronics and wine from Europe. At a port, they are transferred to train cars or the backs of trucks, headed from the coasts to the heart- land to restock mass-market stores.
The move to larger ships is a matter of efficiency.
The Franklin’s diesels produce thrust equal to that from 11 Boeing 747 jetliners, yet due to their enormous capacity, they burn less fuel per container shipped than smaller vessels do. The 1,306-foot ship — longer than any U.S. aircraft carrier — is crewed by fewer than 30.
“We see these types of vessels as the future of shipping,” says Marc Bourdon, president of CMA CGM America. “The whole purpose around these larger vessels is economies of scale.”
Shipping lines scour the world in their quest for hyper-efficiency and the best price.
Though named for an American founding father, the Franklin is owned by a French shipping company, was built in China, cruises under a British flag and is crewed mostly by Filipinos working under a Croatian captain.
The world’s container fleet is expected to grow another 4.6% this year and by about the same amount in 2017, says a new report from AlixPartners, an advisory firm.
The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin is the largest container ship ever to call at the Port of Long Beach in California.