Liner Shipping

Raising Crane – Getting a leg up on Ship-to-Shore Operations

Over the last several years, ocean carriers have been seeking to reduce operating costs through what they have termed “Economies of Scale”. This has included the recent round of mergers and acquisitions allowing owners to increase their capacity by increasing their fleet. It has also meant an upsizing in the vessels they operate. Larger more fuel-efficient ships equate to lower unit costs on containers, thus reducing the overall cost of the voyage. Looking over the Horizon the big ships are coming. The U.S. West Coast will continue to see a dramatic increase in the size of ships calling at terminals from T-18 in the PNW to Pier J Long Beach. If you were touring L.A. in 2014, you would have seen ships from the Asia – So. Cal runs which were predominantly 8,500 to 9,500 TEUs in size. Today in that same trade lane, it’s not uncommon for 12,000 to 14,000 TEU vessels to call at terminals in Southern California. 15,000+ TEU ships continue to be rotated into Asia, West Coast services with regular frequency. In March the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin (18,000 TEUs) called at ocean terminals from SeaTac to So. Cal. With the opening of the new Panama Canal locks, ports along the East and Gulf Coast will be handling vessels in the 8,500 to 13,000 TEU range. Big ships are here to stay, and may be getting bigger. Handling a Behemoth: A 9,500 TEU container ship typically loads six containers above deck while an 18,000 TEU vessel will have nine stacked above the hatch cover. This adds an additional 25.5 feet to the top of the corner castings where the crane lifts the unit. In order to handle the next generation of mega ships, container terminals around the U.S. will need to either buy new cranes with longer legs or raise the height of their existing ones. Terminals Gear Up for the Bigger Ships: In the Pacific Northwest the NWSA (Northwest Seaport Alliance) is laying the groundwork for handling larger ships. Planned improvements will upgrade cranes in several of their facilities and lengthened crane rail beams at T-46 will accommodate two new larger cranes to be purchased for that terminal. Last year the Port of Oakland announced a $13.95 million project to raise four gantry cranes 26 feet to accommodate larger ships. The modified cranes at Oakland International Container Terminal reach 141 feet above the quay and have the ability to handle ships up to 14,000 TEUs, according to the port. ZPMC manufactured the new legs to fit their existing cranes. In Los Angeles APM Terminals announced this month it will spend $40 million to raise cranes at their Pier 400 facility. Additional modifications will include advanced lighting to enhance the operator’s visibility while lifting or lowering containers. The planned extensions will allow Pier 400 to potentially handle the next wave of mega ships up to 20,000 TEUs in capacity. Over at TraPac the Port of L.A. is seeking board approval to raise three cranes 12 feet to accommodate vessels up to 14,000 TEUs. South Carolina also shows “Growing Pains”: Within the next two years Wando Welch Terminal will raise two HHI gantries and two ZPMC Cranes to accommodate vessels up to 13,000 TEUs which are anticipated on regular calls in the South Atlantic. Working their Magic: So you may ask yourself, how do you make these cranes higher? Well, simply put, they jack them up and weld on an additional length of legs. There are several firms in the U.S. who perform this work, providing technical engineering and or actual fabrication. ZPMC, a leading supplier of Ship to Shore Cranes based in Shanghai, also manufactures leg extensions for their shore side units. Kalmar of Helsinki, Finland states in their brochure that a crane’s lifting height can be increased by up to four containers. The current generation of Post Panamax Cranes can handle ships between 16,000 to 18,000 TEUs. With an extension they could handle ships as large as 20,000 containers. The cost of a new container crane is between 8 and 10 million dollars where as the Port of Oakland spent just under $14 million to extend four cranes. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision to buy or extend: berth construction, height restrictions, the footprint of the existing units to name a few. It’s usually not a cut and dry choice. With the extension of existing cranes and or the purchase of new units the terminal is banking on the continued growth on “ships of the line” so to speak. Given recent events such as the takeover of APL and the demise of Hanjin Lines, will ship owners continue to put larger and larger vessels into the trade? Or, have we reached a saturation point at 15,000 to 18,000 TEUs?
Matt Guasco
Matt Guasco


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