US ports prepare for post-panamaxes as orderbook goes ultra

18 May 2014 9:12 AM | Anonymous

The adjustment of global ports to handle larger containerships is well underway, but the first objective in many cases is well shy of the trend of the order book. While attention is focused on the new fleet of 18,000 teu vessels, the upgrades contemplate ships just over half that size.

That is certainly so in the Americas, where the Panama Canal is being enlarged to accommodate up to 13,000 teu, not the larger ships, and collateral ports up and down the East Coast are planning on the services of the 10,000-teu variety.

The 18,000+ teu ultra large container ship (ULCS) is being built for the Asia–Europe market, and their usage may be locked in there, due to its dependency on accompanying investments in deep ports and inland distribution capabilities, and access to major cargo markets.

Meanwhile, ports eager to achieve a place in the container sun have purchased larger container cranes and are committing to a $1bn port upgrade that has become ubiquitous.

Ports up and down the U. S. East Coast have been dredging and upgrading to adjust to the future sizing of the Panama Canal, which is now being pushed back to 2016.

Last week, U.S. House and the Senate conferees agreed to end a torturous legislative deadlock and permit ports to pay the cost of deepening harbors and then seek reimbursement from the government once the project is authorized. The last dredging legislation was passed seven years ago.

If finally approved, this would clear the way for various projects, starting with the deepening of the Sabine-Neches Waterway that connects the oil-refining hub of Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. Another would permit the start of dredging the 30-mile run to the Port of Savannah so as to accommodate larger ships transiting an expanded Panama Canal.

A new entrant has joined the Panama expansion parade. In Cuba, that island is extolling the virtues of its newly opened port at Mariel, outside of Havana. The $1bn Brazil-sponsored port, designed to handle up to 1 million teu, is deemed a keystone in the eventual lifting of the US trade embargo.

In Angola, the port has installed new cranes and reduced cargo unloading time as the government reviews a plan to build Africa's biggest shipping terminal to challenge the current leader at Durban. The port would handle ships up to 13,000 teu, according to its backers, but funding has not been arranged.