Over the Christmas-New Years holidays, APM Terminals in Los Angeles broke new ground in the handling of the new generation of mega-ships with capacities of 18,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUS). The Port of Los Angeles welcomed the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin over the new year, turning the massive ship in 56 hours of operations, averaging 29.1 lifts per crane, per hour, and a total 200 container moves against the vessel each hour for a total of 11,229 containers handled. This first-ever visit by an 18,000-TEU ship to a North American port proved to CMA CGM, and other trans-Pacific carriers, that the West Coast is positioning itself for regular weekly services by some of the largest container ships in service globally. After leaving Los Angeles, the vessel proceeded to Oakland before heading back to Asia. “It was a great opportunity to be part of this, to show that APM Terminals is big-ship ready,” said Steve Trombley, managing director of the terminal in Los Angeles.
Trombley noted that work needs to be done infrastructure-wise before the ports are ready to handle the big ships fully loaded, on regular weekly services. The work must begin with the ship-to-shore cranes. The Benjamin Franklin generated 11,229 container moves during its three and one-half day visit to Los Angeles, but it potentially could have produced a higher container count. Trombley said containers were stacked seven rows high on deck, but the vessel has a capacity of stacking containers 10 rows high.
The mega-ships also required advance planning by the terminal operator, shipping lines, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), trucking companies and cargo owners. For example, APM worked closely with the longshoremen on the deployment of cargo-handling equipment and lane configuration within the terminal because for the first time ever the terminal worked a ship with as many as nine ship-to-shore cranes. These nine cranes might not have been available not been for the slack holiday period. “It adds another level of complexity,” Trombley said.
In both Oakland and Los Angeles, the container yards and gates were able to process the larger cargo surges without any congestion issues, both ports reported. The question facing West Coast ports and terminal operators now is how much investment is needed to become truly big-ship ready, given the reality that it looks like carriers intend to deploy more 15,000-18,000-TEU capacity vessels on services to the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest. Their decisions would be easier to make if carriers will be more open as to when the onslaught of big ships is coming, how many mega-ships will be arriving and what sizes the ships will be.