The largest container ship ever to visit U.S. shores docked at Pier 400 in the Port of Los Angeles just before the new year. The 18,000 TEU Benjamin Franklin, owned by French shipping line CMA CGM SA, is 30% larger than any previous container vessel to grace US shores.
Fuel is the largest expense for the ocean carriers. As global trade volumes swell and shippers seek to drive down costs, they are turning to larger, slower but more efficient vessels that can strain port capacity.
From Saturday morning, Dec. 26, to Tuesday evening, Dec. 29, 1,500 longshoremen moved 11,229 containers of various sizes on and off the ship, about 61% inbound and 39% outbound, according to the port. It took 56 hours to unload imports and reload exports using a record nine cranes at once. According to APM Terminals, 12 double-stack trains carried 2,845 of the inbound containers off the dock.
Despite the sheer size of the Benjamin Franklin and the preparations made to receive it, port officials said the number of containers that were moved on and off didn’t break the port record for a single ship. Longshore workers in L.A. have moved more than 12,000 containers on and off some 13,000-TEU ships, a port spokesman said.
In a report, analysts with Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. said the average container ship size between Asia and the U.S. West Coast has risen 14% in the past two years. Drewry analysts wrote. “As the average size of ships grows and more cargo is squeezed onto fewer weekly services, terminals have to prepare for much greater peaks in container activity,” the report said.
If ship sizes continue to grow faster than overall container volume, the challenge for U.S. ports will be adapting to the exaggrerated peaks and valleys in volume.