Port breaks record with Development

Published 10:31 pm Monday, May 8, 2017

History was made at the Port of Virginia on Monday with the arrival of Cosco Development, the largest ship ever to call not only on the Port of Virginia but also on the United States’ entire east coast.

Tugboats eased the container ship alongside Virginia International Gateway on Monday morning. The ship is 1,200 feet long and 158 feet wide, more than 100 feet longer than the Gerald R. Ford, the U.S. Navy’s newest aircraft carrier.

“It is truly an incredible vessel,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. “This is history.”

Email newsletter signup

McAuliffe joined Virginia Port Authority officials, Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe, Cosco Shipping North America executive vice president Jacky Wang and others at a press conference at the Virginia International Gateway on Monday.

Cosco Shipping is part of the OCEAN Alliance that began on April 1, along with CMA CGM, Evergreen Line and Orient Overseas Container Lines. Alliance members will contribute container ships and share space on the vessels.

“We all feel excited,” Wang said.

The Cosco Development can carry 13,092 twenty-foot equivalent units, or TEUs. That is 3,000 more than the MOL Benefactor, which was the Port of Virginia record holder for TEU capacity when it arrived at Norfolk International Terminals last summer.

Wang said these improvements will lead to better services for customers.

“I believe all these economies of scale and the new operational efficiencies will allow us to provide better services to our customers,” he said.

The Port of Virginia is the first stop for the vessel on the East Coast. It is part of the weekly OCEAN Alliance South Atlantic Express service connecting Virginia with Hong Kong, Yantian, Ningbo and Shanghai via the Panama Canal.

Crews moved about 1,500 containers during the vessel’s stay at the port, according to Port of Virginia chief executive officer and executive director John Reinhart. The vessel will depart Tuesday morning to move on to Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, S.C.

“With the larger vessels, the costs of operating are less,” Cosco Shipping National Sales Manager Mark Butler said. “It makes the business more sustainable and provides our customers with a better product in terms of reliability.”

Reinhart said one cargo owner with a local distribution center had more than 200 loads on the vessel. The port is prepared to handle as many as 4,000 container moves, nearly triple the average number of moves for a ship.

“As people see the reliability, you’ll see the volume continue to grow,” he said.

The port responded to growing vessel sizes and cargo volumes with a $670 million investment to increase overall annual throughput capacity by 40 percent, or 1 million containers, by 2020.

It became the first East Coast port to have 50-foot deep channels in 2007, and a study is under way to dredge to 55 feet to draw even more business.

“Can you imagine what we could do with 55 feet?” McAuliffe said.

Reinhart said this will benefit port customers, including those with distribution centers in Suffolk and Hampton Roads. One such benefactor will be Peet’s Coffee, which announced in December that a $58-million, 175,000-square-foot manufacturing facility will be built in Suffolk.

“As they start to need cargo, that will add to the volume,” Reinhart said. “We feel confident that it’s going to be a great service.”

The five-year OCEAN Alliance agreement will bring vessels of similar size or greater to the port weekly. Eleven vessels ranging from 11,000 to 13,000 TEU capacity will be part of the weekly Asia-to-U.S. service. Wang said Cosco Shipping will have 19,000 to 20,000 TEU vessels join its fleet in 2018.

Virginia Port Authority spokesman Joe Harris said that the Cosco Development has ushered in a new era, and more vessels will break the TEU capacity record as they arrive at port.

“This is the beginning of the big ship era,” he said.