First Post-Panamax Container Ship Arrives in Savannah

In early July, the first Post-Panamax container ship, the MOL Benefactor, arrived at the Port of Savannah’s Garden City Terminal. Not only was it the first, but also the largest, vessel to dock from Far East Asia after traveling through the newly-expanded Panama Canal locks in Central America, which opened in June.

First Post-panamax Container Ship Arrives in SavannahThe MOL Benefactor is the first Ultra Large Container Ship to arrive in Savannah, GA.

First Post-Panamax in Savannah

The MOL Benefactor is just the first of many ships with this capacity to begin voyage to the East Coast. With work completed to expand the Panama Canal, larger vessels in the 10,000 TEU range will be deployed to the East Coast as part of the newly-enhanced NYX service from the G6 Alliance.

This size vessel was previously too large to sail through the canal’s locks. Port executives predict that over the next six months to a year, a higher ratio of 8,000- to 10,000- TEU container ships will be docking and within two years, U.S. East Coast Ports will be seeing 12,000-TEU vessels.

The MOL Benefactor has a capacity of 10,100 twenty-foot equivalent container units. It moved over 3,000 containers at the Georgia Port Authority’s Garden City terminal in Savannah. In addition to the Port of Savannah, this enormous ship will be making calls at New York/New Jersey and Norfolk, VA ports.

The Port’s executive director praised the ship’s arrival, saying that it ushered in a new era of larger vessels and expanded services that will increase capacity, volume, and economic opportunities for Georgia and the region.

The city of Savannah and the Georgia Port Authority have been preparing for these larger ships ever since the Panama Canal announced plans to widen its locks. The GPA has placed on order eight new Neo-Panamax cranes with the intent to have a total of 30 ship-to-shore cranes by 2018. It has also bolstered its current fleet of rubber-tired gantry cranes by adding 30 to total 146 machines; this is the largest fleet of any single container terminal in the U.S.

Not only is the GPA enabling itself to handle larger container ships and greater volumes but the city of Savannah is boosting its operational facilities as well. Its Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP), which started last fall, will deepen the inner harbor to 47 feet and the outer harbor to 49 feet at mean low water at a cost of $706 million. Until that project is completed, these big vessels cannot carry full loads because the Savannah River is too shallow. So far, 15% of the outer portion of the harbor has been completed.

East Coast Ports including Savannah are expecting a surge of these larger vessels in coming months, all due to the Panama Canal expansion. On June 26, the canal opened for business after 10 years of construction that cost $5.4 billion. The project entailed a new set of locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides, created a new lane of traffic, and enlarged existing channels. Those changes will support two and a half times the previous vessel capacity featuring enormous 13,000 TEU Neo-Panamax ships.

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