By Tara Bozick, The Daily Press
The Port of Virginia is preparing to receive “big ships” potentially weekly after the largest container ship yet arrived at the Virginia International Gateway terminal in Portsmouth on Monday.
“This is what we have been preparing for: the talk is over, the big ships are here,” Virginia Port Authority Executive Director and CEO John F. Reinhart said.
Early Monday morning, the 1,200-foot-long and 158-foot-wide COSCO Development arrived at Virginia International Gateway. For comparison, the ship is 100 feet longer than the new Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and can carry the equivalent of 13,092 containers that are 20 feet long. That beats the port’s record ship to call last year by a capacity of 3,000 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs.
“You see that?” Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked attendees of the milestone celebration Monday in view of the ship. “You know what that is? That’s money.”
Virginia International Gateway is prepared to get regular visits from these larger ships as the Port of Virginia said it’s now part of the loop for the new Ocean Alliance’s South Atlantic Express weekly shipping service connecting Hong Kong and China to the East Coast via the Panama Canal, which completed its expansion last year.
Carrier members of the Ocean Alliance, comprised of COSCO Shipping, CMA CGM, Evergreen Line and Orient Overseas Container Line, agreed to pool ships and share space on them to take advantage of economies of scale to help their customers with efficiency, said Jacky Wang, executive vice president of COSCO Shipping in North America.
Another benefit for Port of Virginia customers is that the local port is the first U.S. East Coast stop on the South Atlantic Express service, meaning product gets out faster. Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., are the next stops on the route before ships head back to Asia. About 1,500 containers were loaded on and off the COSCO Development Monday before the ship was due to leave early Tuesday onward to Savannah and Charleston, port authority spokesman Joe Harris said.
“These large ships really represent opportunity and global trade,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said.
And with bigger ships comes the need for more manpower and increased capacity to get cargo in and out. That’s why the port, with state backing, said it’s investing $670 million to increase its throughput capacity by 40 percent or by 1 million containers by 2020.
“The message to them is bring it on. Anything you want to send, we can handle,” Virginia Port Authority Board Chairman John G. Milliken said.
While Virginia became the first East Coast port to have 50-foot deep channels in 2007, McAuliffe and other state leaders said throughout Monday’s ceremony that the Port of Virginia needs to get to 55 feet deep to compete with other East Coast ports.