The excitement of the largest container ship to date visiting the East Coast was riding high on everyone’s radar recently but especially for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District.
“Being at the helm of the Post 45 Harbor Deepening Project during this time is very exciting,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Luzzatto, Charleston District Commander. “I know our role in the deepening project is crucial for our local community, our state and our nation. When a large ship arrives, it emphasizes the importance of what we do because, without the deepened harbor, such ships would suffer restrictions in calling the Port of Charleston related to loading, timing of the tide, or both.”
The COSCO Development docked at the South Carolina Ports Authority’s Wando Welch Terminal on the morning of May 13th. This 1,200-foot-long, 158-foot-wide Neo-Panamax class ship can carry between 11,000 and 13,000 cargo boxes and is so long that the USS Yorktown, Sergeant Jasper Apartments and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church could fit end-to-end along its deck.
“Our ports are one of the most integral pieces to South Carolina’s economic engine that continues to grow every day, and the COSCO Development’s arrival at the Port of Charleston is a symbol of our state’s competitiveness in the global marketplace,” said South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. “We will continue to work with everything we have to make sure our harbor is deepened to 52 feet to further allow big ships to call Charleston, which will take our state to a level of prosperity we have never seen.”
Once the ship reached the terminal, it took several hours to make a full turn in the Wando River to dock portside at the second berth. It was a tight maneuver for the nearly 142,000-ton ship powered by “tractor tugboats” with special propulsion systems to move the Development into position.
By the time the ship departed on May 14th at 6 p.m., two shifts of more than 100 International Longshoremen’s Association workers and dozens of SPA employees had moved 2,910 cargo boxes on and off the vessel, barely missing a single ship record regarding loads. When the Development pulled out of Charleston Harbor, it was loaded with 11,406 cargo boxes headed to Hong Kong. Charleston was the last stop on the ship’s three-port tour. It first pulled into the Port of Virginia on May 8th and then the Port of Savannah on May 12th.
This Development visit kicks off a weekly service by Ocean Alliance ships carrying between 11,000 and 13,000 cargo boxes and later in the year the schedule will probably increase to twice a week. This is a result of the consolidation of global shipping lines needing to haul more cargo on each trip in an effort to reduce costs. This, coupled with the opening of the Panama Canal expansion in June 2016, and shipping lines needing to move more cargo on fewer vessels, has led to the growing use of Neo-Panamax ships.
“The Post 45 project has been a priority for the District for the past few years and I am extremely proud to lead the team that has handled this project so efficiently, as it was one of the Obama Administration’s ‘We Can’t Wait’ Initiatives,” said Holly Carpenter, Post 45 Project Manager. “It has become the framework for other USACE deep navigation projects around the country as it was one of the first projects to go through the Corps’ new Civil Works planning process from start to finish, completing the feasibility study in less than four years.”
The Preconstruction Engineering and Design phase is underway and proceeding as aggressively as the feasibility study did and the District anticipates soliciting contracts late this summer if a Project Partnership Agreement between the federal government and South Carolina Ports Authority is executed and funds are provided for the construction. A late summer solicitation could allow work to begin in the entrance channel in December. Providing solutions to the nation’s current and future water resource challenges while still being a good steward of taxpayers’ precious resources has been one massive job to accommodate the massive ships, but the District is always ready to handle any challenges it faces.