Earlier this month the largest container ship to ever call the US East Coast, named the Development, brought to light the investments that are necessary for certain ports to handle mega ships. The ship has the capacity to hold 13,092 TEU but it arrived in the US holding 11,500 TEU and called Charleston, Savannah, and Virginia. It is estimated that an investment of $4.6 billion is needed on the East Coast to bring the infrastructure to the level required to handle these large ships.
Savannah handled half of the Development’s volume in terms of total lifts and TEU loaded and unloaded. The port broke their previous record of 4,400 lifts. Virginia and South Carolina ports did not break any records but the ports did comment that the ship did represent the start of the new “big ship era”. Port authorities are aware that just because this ship was handled without issues, does not mean they don’t have work to do in order to continuously handle more this size.
The raising of the Bayonne Bridge will be completed at the end of June which will allow ships up to 18,000 TEU to call more terminals in New York and New Jersey. This will even further entice carriers to use larger ships. The West Coast still has a larger market share of Asian imports but volume is slowly shifting to the East Coast. From January to April the West Coast market share of Asian imports was 65.3 percent, down from 66.8 percent in 2016. During the same time period, East Coast imports increased to 31.1 percent, up from 30.4 percent in 2016. There has also been a shift in the market share for East Coast ports. New York has lost market share while ports like Savannah are increasing.
Although the Development was handled without any major operational issues, the mega ship did bring to light the limitations of US ports. For example, Savannah could only handle the ship during high tide and also would not have been able to handle the ship if it was fully loaded. Savannah does have plans to deepen 39 miles of the Savannah River but this is not expected to be completed until 2022.