Chicago Sun-Times - - MONEY - Chris Wood­yard @Chris­Wood­yard

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.

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