Port of Virginia Celebrates Arrival of First Neo-Panamax Ship

July 18, 2016 / Current News/ Regional News

By Nate Delesline III, The Virginian-Pilot

Quipping the cargo vessel MOL Benefactor is “rightfully named,” Panama’s ambassador to the U.S. said the supersized ship and others like it are on course to deliver economic growth that extends beyond each port of call.

The ambassador, Emanuel Gonzalez-Revilla, was among the guests to gather at the Port of Virginia on Monday morning to celebrate the vessel’s arrival here. It was the first ship to call on the port after passing through the recently expanded Panama Canal.

“Today, we are witnessing the results that the expanded canal is going to have on world commerce and especially the benefits it will bring to the east coast ports,’ Gonzalez-Revilla said.

The MOL Benefactor paid a $829,468 toll July 1 to pass through the nearly 50-mile long Panama Canal, The Virginian-Pilot reported, citing the Panama Canal Authority. Arriving from the Port of New York/New Jersey, the Benefactor had a quick turnaround in Norfolk before departing around midday Monday for Savannah.

At 1,105 feet long and 158 feet wide, the Benefactor has a capacity of 10,000 20-foot equivalent units or TEUs, and it is the largest container ship to call on the Port of Virginia so far. The company said it also was the first neo-Panamax-size ship to go through the Panama Canal’s expanded locks.

MOL’s history with the canal dates back more than 100 years, Gonzalez-Revilla said, when the first MOL vessel went through in 1915, one year after the waterway opened.

Gonzalez-Revilla said more 13,000 vessels go through the canal every year, serving more than 144 maritime routes and connecting 166 countries. In addition, he said 69 percent of cargo that transits the canal originates in or is destined for the U.S. “This number is forecast to increase to approximately 80 percent once expansion is fully matured,” he said.

Some 400 years after port operations began here, “we are serving as a global gateway for trade for the mid-Atlantic for the commonwealth and opening the doors to global commerce to Virginia and bringing products from around the world to Virginia,” said John Reinhart, the Port of Virginia’s CEO and executive director. He was speaking during a ceremony at the observation tower at Norfolk International Terminals.

“As the largest ships like the Benefactor begin to regularly call on the Port of Virginia, it is critical to our economy that the port is able to safely, swiftly and sustainably handle the volume these big ships bring,” Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said.

Without financial investment and support, Layne said, the operational capacity and the port’s ability to serve customers could slip behind other facilities. “We cannot do that. These are investments not just for today and tomorrow, but for generations to come,” Layne said.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, also on hand for the event, echoed that sentiment.

“Our port is one of the preferred ports because of the ability to get goods to the marketplace faster as well as to ship from our ports to other global markets,” Alexander said. The arrival of the Benefactor is “a testament to the trade and business climate here in Virginia and our port, and we look forward to more of those Panamax ships coming to the Port of Virginia.”