For a long time, much of the conversation has been on how megaships are ‘coming’ but, in truth, they’re actually here now so are we ready for them? In years gone by, we were impressed by cargo ships’ ability to carry up to 5,000 shipping containers. Suddenly, they now hold 18,000 and many port infrastructure falls short of the requirements for these megaships. Of course, these huge ships aren’t exactly common which means there’s time for changes to be made and we’re going to discuss the key factors here today!
According to the Director of GHK Consulting, Jamie Simpson, the majority of US ports are below world-class standards which is why megaships are far more common on Asia-Europe routes. In addition to a lack of physical capacity, Simpson says most US ports are also behind the times on cargo-handling performance and intermodal connectivity. In Southern California, for example, an 8,000 TEU ship requires three and a half days of work which, quite simply, wouldn’t be acceptable for most carriers. With the largest vessels in the water these days, they can reach 13,000 TEUs.
Ultimately, the main problems seem to vary depending on which port infrastruct you assess with the West Cost suffering in cargo-handling productivity despite having sufficient water depth and the capacity to deal with megaships. However, it’s not bad news for all of the US since Maersk Line praised the dockside productivity of the southeastern ports such as South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. For Virginia, progress has been important in recent years after a project in which an intermodal link will be created with the Chicago market (reliant upon the Heartland Corridor rail project).
In New York-New Jersey and Savannah, they’ve recently had to perform several dredging projects in order to allow 8,000-TEU ships to pass through. With the terminals already in place, these changes opened them up to potential megaships and the associated business. For the ‘Kill van Kull’ channel that connects Staten Island and Bayonne (New York and New Jersey), the clearance is just over 150 feet which means most large ships today cannot pass underneath and any potential changes could take a decade to come to fruition.
Productivity – Slowly but surely, the infrastructure is being improved and the facilities are in the right position to welcome megaships. However, there seems to be one problem arising time and time again with US ports and this is productivity. According to one source, US terminals tend to average up to 30 moves per hour (with the quay crane). Elsewhere, the accepted average is at 45 moves per hour which leaves a lot to be desired for the US.
Furthermore, there has been a lot of discussion on just how large a port infrastructure will need to be to welcome megaships. When Southern California first welcomed megaships, they dedicated 100 acres for each and every ship and this enabled the facility to work efficiently without being overwhelmed. Therefore, this is important to keep in mind; for those who simply don’t have this sort of spare capacity, they get removed from the list of available ports immediately.
Ultimately, changes are being made and more port infrastructure are opening themselves up for the possibility of welcoming megaships. However, more improvement will be required in terms of larger container gantry cranes, larger storage yards, and, most importantly, improved productivity. If US ports cannot match other locations for productivity, it’s likely the megaships will stay on the Asia-Europe lines. Once improvements are made and the US can compete again, we become a more attractive prospect in more ways than one!