NY welcomes supersized cargo ships
The largest cargo vessel ever to call the Port of New York and New Jersey arrived just days after the ship also became the largest ever to head through the newly expanded Panama Canal. Greg Meyer reports from New York and New Jersey.
Filmed and produced by by Gregory Bobillot. Graphics by Russell Birkett. Additional video footage: Getty
When the Panama Canal was widened last year, it opened up opportunities for trade to accelerate between East Asia and the East Coast of the United States. The canal locks can now handle much bigger container ships, making the route cheaper than before.
But an obstacle prevented the trade from flourishing between Asia and the Port of New York and New Jersey, the third largest in the US. It was the Bayonne Bridge, which spans a narrow strait that leads to the port's main container terminals. The bridge was built in 1931. At 151 feet in elevation, its roadway was too low to let the new container ships through.
As work on the Panama Canal advanced, the Port Authority began a $1.6 billion project to raise the roadway. They accomplished the lift in June. In early September, a ship 185 feet tall passed easily under the bridge, having travelled from Shanghai through the canal.
Behind me is the largest ship ever to visit a US East Coast port. The Theodore Roosevelt, as it's known, is more than a third of a kilometre long. And it's pretty darn tall, too. Until recently, it couldn't have passed under the bridge at all. And that was a major bottleneck for international shipping.
Increasing the height of the bridge is a defensive move by New York and New Jersey, ensuring it doesn't lose larger vessels to competing ports, such as Norfolk, Virginia, further south down the coast. Marc Bourdon, president of CMA CGM's America division said larger ships have economies of scale and are more energy efficient, and the old bridge design was keeping them out of the New York market.
The Port of New York is a key port on the East Coast. It is the largest sport the East Coast. Concentrates about 36% of the Far East/East Coast trade, and as a result is a cornerstone of any vessel deployment. So not having this bridge raised is an impediment to actually creating services based on such assets.
Port officials have high hopes that, by raising the bridge, they can retain ship traffic that might otherwise go to other ports and reduce the cost of transporting goods into the largest metropolitan area of the US. A study by the US Army Corps of Engineers indicated that the improvement would save as much as $170 million in annual transport costs from the use of larger, more efficient vessels.
The Bayonne Bridge largely serves regional traffic, but the effects of raising it are global.
These are exciting times for us. This ship in particular just went through, two weeks ago, through the Panama Canal. It is the largest ship that has gone through the Panama Canal ever, especially now since we opened up the expansion.
So for us, after a year of operation of the expansion, it was an accomplishment to get this very large vessel through. We didn't expect to have these sized vessels come through till maybe next year. But this is a few months ahead of the time.
Service to the East Coast by these mega ships could also tilt the landscape of commerce inside North America. Right now, importers of Asian goods generally use ports on the West Coast, unless they are within several hundred miles of East Coast ports. The widening of the canal and the higher Bayonne Bridge could alter that equation. By the year 2020, as much as 10% of East Asia-origin container imports could shift to the East Coast from the West Coast.
Gregory Meyer, Financial Times, Elizabeth, New Jersey.