Port of Oakland attracting more mega-vessel calls

Many industry experts contend that carriers will continue to be plagued with overcapacity until this “bigger is better” strategy is reversed.

By ·

While maritime industry analysts are questioning the sustainability of global mega-vessel operations, it is now clear that Pacific Rim ports will be asked to accommodate them in the near future.

Even the Port of Oakland – California’s third largest ocean cargo gateway – is reporting that 16 of these new generation ships have called the past 30 days. Not surprisingly, officials here are welcoming this trend and are determined to remain “fully engaged.”

“We have prepared for these ships and they’re here to stay,” says Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll. “It’s gratifying to see our planning and advance work pay off.”

At the same time, many industry experts contend that carriers will continue to be plagued with overcapacity until this “bigger is better” strategy is reversed, or at least mitigated by better alliance cooperation.

Port spokesmen say it is handling the largest container vessels to call U.S. ports. It defined big ships as those capable of carrying 10,000 or more 20-foot containers (TEUs). Two Oakland arrivals last month, the MSC Regulus and the CMA CGM Margrit, hold up to 13,000 containers each.

The ability to service big ships is critical, and landside disruptions caused by dockworker and trucking labor disputes and anarchist actions staged by groups like “The Occupy Movement,” will no doubt continue to be a concern.

But Oakland remains optimistic, noting that International shipping lines have migrated to the 1,200-foot-long behemoths for economies of scale and improved fuel efficiency.

Furthermore, say spokesmen, they have become popular with the community because they producer fewer emissions per container carried.

The first mega-vessel to call Oakland, the MSC Fabiola, berthed in March of 2012. It carries up to 12,500 TEUs. In 2013 the MSC Beatrice became the largest vessel in Oakland. It holds 14,000 TEUs. The vessel is nearly a quarter-mile long. Its containers placed end-to-end would stretch more than 52 miles.

Oakland prepared for big ships by dredging approaches and berths to 50-foot depths over the last decade. It raised crane heights to reach over the mountains of containers stacked above vessel decks. It continues to refine marine terminal operations to improve landside cargo-handling speed.

The port say vessels holding between 6,500 and 8,500 TEUs remain “the norm” in Oakland. But it adds that the number of big ships calling here is growing. And it maintains that the “big ship migration” will test marine terminals’ ability to load and unload vessels.

Other Pacific Rim ports that are unable to handle big ships risk losing market share as containerized trade demand grows.

According to recent port data, mega-vessels spend 40-to-45 hours in Oakland discharging or loading cargo. Smaller ships usually depart in 35-to-39 hours. Port spokesmen say upcoming improvements designed to accelerate landside operations could help shorten berth time for larger ships. The steps include weekend gates and after-hour off-dock locations for cargo pick-up or delivery.

About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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Article Topics

Container · Ocean Cargo · Ports · Shipping · All Topics
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