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Being Big Ship Ready

October 31, 2012


To understand what it means for the Port to be "big ship" ready, consider that a deep channel is only the beginning. How about having bollards strong enough to secure a 150,000-ton ship, cranes tall and long enough to reach the containers, and operational support to handle nearly double the capacity of your typical container ship? Port of Long Beach Chief Harbor Engineer Al Moro explains.

“Everyone focuses on deep water,” Moro said. “But that's just the first step.”

The next generation of container ships is twice the size of those that entered the global fleet only 15 years ago. Dredging channels 55 feet deep or more may get a ship into a harbor, but that isn’t enough to make a port big ship ready.

To service ships like the nearly 14,000-TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) MSC Beatrice, which called at Pier T on September 30, an entire infrastructure must be in place to berth the vessel, unload it, and send its cargo on its way safely and efficiently.

The Beatrice was the largest container ship ever to call on the the Americas. Long Beach is one of a handful of ports in North America capable of handling this new generation of larger ships, which are already outpacing the yet-to-be-completed Panama Canal expansion. The Canal will accommodate vessels up to 160 feet wide, and the Beatrice has a beam width of 167 feet.

At the Port of Long Beach, several container terminals are ready today to receive big ships, and with $4.5 billion in capital improvements underway, Long Beach will only increase its ability to receive the most efficient and environmentally sustainable ships in the future.

“We’re modernizing the Port for ships that are still on the drawing board,” Moro said.

Being big ship ready in Long Beach starts with having one of the deepest main channels in the continent at 76 feet, along with deep berths, of at least 55 feet, for adequate under-keel clearance.

An added benefit in Long Beach is the breakwater, which means that shippers can rely on tranquil waters year-round. “We’re not fighting elements like river currents or major tide fluctuations,” Moro said.

Next up are the berths themselves, which must have bollards and fendering systems strong enough to handle the mass of a ship like Beatrice, which exceeds 156,000 tons when fully loaded.

“These vessels are so large that they are required to be tied down on 16 bollards, or vertical posts, each of which must be able to absorb the energy of 100,000 tons of force,” Moro said.  The ropes measure up to 4 inches in diameter.

Once a ship is safely moored, terminals need ship-to-shore cranes that have the height and reach to move containers stacked 180 feet tall – almost as high as Long Beach City Hall – and 24 boxes wide.

“Imagine a football field,” Moro said. “The boom has to extend from one end zone to the other. It also has to be able to lift a loaded container weighing about 40 tons, roughly the equivalent of 10 large SUVs.”

Finally, a solid wharf structure must be in place to support the cranes and all the surrounding activity. “It’s a concrete deck supported by concrete piles driven about 100 feet down into the earth beneath the water,” Moro said.

The Port’s capital improvement projects include Middle Harbor, which will be able accommodate the latest generation of container vessels with the most technologically advanced container-moving system in the country. And the replacement for the Gerald Desmond Bridge will include higher clearance to allow larger ships to reach the Back Channel.

Hand-in-hand with the development projects are improvements to roadways and the Port’s rail network, technology and security.

“With each project, we’re introducing the most state-of-the-art, greenest and most efficient cargo-moving infrastructure,” Moro said. “We are building it, and these ships are coming.”

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