Port of New York/New Jersey is meeting tomorrow’s challenges

By: | Issue #635 | at 09:31 AM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  Ports  

The Port of NY/NJ has challenges, which will require planning for handling a generation of ships yet to be built and cargoes to be borne.

China Ocean Shipping Co.’s 6,000-TEU E.R. India passes under the Bayonne Bridge as crews work above to raise the roadbed to accommodate passage of larger container vessels.
China Ocean Shipping Co.’s 6,000-TEU E.R. India passes under the Bayonne Bridge as crews work above to raise the roadbed to accommodate passage of larger container vessels.

Port Industry Day raised some interesting issues that need to be explored further if the Port of New York/New Jersey is to survive the onslaught of the mega-ships. PANYNJ is gearing up for one of the biggest challenges it will face in the modern age of containerization. In the past, the problem of discharging a heavy-laden ship could be solved by spreading containers over more land. Working a larger ship simply meant hiring more casual labor. Today, backland, if available at all, is at a premium. The labor required to handle these mega-ships has to be skilled in working with semi-automated equipment and understanding the logistics of loading, discharging and handling the larger volume of containers associated with these behemoths. The Dynamics of Big Ship Handling

Many challenges face our port as larger vessels come into the harbor. Not the least of which is maneuverability. Wind and wave action is compounded when handling mega-ships and they don’t turn quite as smartly as today’s 8,500s, so there is a learning curve. Capt. Schoenlank, president of the Sandy Hook Pilots, noted that they are constantly reviewing how bigger ships move through our local waterways. Simulations are run with various size vessels in order to prepare for the mega-ships to come.

The Kill Van Kull is the principle strait through which all cargo ships enter Port Elizabeth and Port Newark. Robbins Reef Light marks the entrance to the channel, which spans 3 miles to Bergen Point, just under the Bayonne Bridge. At its widest point it is 0.5 miles. The Kill’s four doglegs are of particular interest to harbor pilots. A starboard turn must also be negotiated after clearing the bridge between Bergen Point and Shooters Island, a span of 0.65 mi in order to reach the container terminals in Newark Bay. The MSC Beryl with a 12,400 TEU capacity has a length of over 12,000 feet and a beam of nearly 159 feet. She draws 50.85-feet of water. As a result of her size, the ship will have to await high tide to transit through the Kill Van Kull. It’s been said that big ships act like giant sails. With minimal water under her keel and a 15-knot wind, a ship like the MSC Beryl will require skillful navigating to transit from the Upper New York Bay to Newark Bay.

Mega-Ships Change Terminal Handling Forever

Hypothetically an 8,000 TEU ship discharging 70% of her cargo at a particular terminal would generate 5,600 TEUs. The PANYNJ is anticipating the arrival of 13,000 TEU vessels through the Panama Canal. A ship that large would off load 9,100 TEUs. That’s 1.14% of the 8,000 TEU’s capacity. Two 13,000 TEU vessels working simultaneously would yield 7,000 more boxes than two 8000 TEU ships. The time needed to discharge a vessel is directly related to the manpower put against the ship. If a crane operator were capable of achieving 40 lifts per hour then it would require 9.5 days to unload 9,100 containers (9,100 /40 = 228 hrs / 24 = 9.5). Each additional crane would increase the rate of discharge. Four cranes capable of handling the vessel could accomplish the discharge in 2.4 days (9100/160 = 57 hrs / 24 = 2.4). While labor and management are negotiating faster rates of discharge, currently terminal operators in the port are not achieving 40 lifts per hour. Any reduction in discharge rate adds hours to the time needed to work the vessel. To maintain productivity you either increase your discharge rate or add an additional crane.

The project to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge to bring air draft to 215 feet from 151 feet is moving toward slated completion in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The project to raise the roadbed of the Bayonne Bridge to bring air draft to 215 feet from 151 feet is moving toward slated completion in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Who can handle the larger vessels?

Air draft at the Bayonne Bridge (that is the height from the waterline to the roadbed) will be raised from 151 to 215 feet. Completion of the project has been pushed back until late 2017. In effect only Global Container Terminal, which lies in Upper New York Bay, can handle Neo-Panamax vessels calling at this time. By example, the CMA CGM Cassiopeia at 8,100 TEUs has eighteen containers across her beam, while the MSC Fabiola has twenty. Global’s cranes are capable of discharging ships of this size. The terminal has two Liebherr Super Post Panamax Cranes with a height of 141feet and an outreach of 203 feet and two ZPMC Post Panamax Cranes with a height of 131feet and an outreach of 185 feet. Terminals in the inner harbor are similarly equipped, most notably PNCT with two ZPMC cranes at a height of 219 feet and an outreach of 167 feet. With the new roadbed in place the port will be able to receive Neo-Panamax vessels up to 12,500 to 13,000 TEUs.

Getting Out of the Gate

While the port’s facilities will be able to receive the latest round of mega-ships, it will be up to terminal operators to maximize work flow and land use. Productivity is measured not only by how quickly a ship can be handled but also by how long containers remain on the tarmac. Also know as dwell time, facilities calculate how lo2ng it takes containers to clear their gates. Automation can play a key role in organizing containers for loading and delivery out. Smart container stackers can pick boxes for handoff to waiting truckers. We see facilities on the West Coast headed in that direction while terminals in the PANYNJ are only beginning to test semi automated equipment.

Truck turnaround times have been an issue over the last few years. Working groups like the Council on Port Performance have brought together stakeholders to discuss bottlenecks in the system. The Port Truck Pass, an RFID tag, allows vehicles that meet certain environmental and safety codes to streamline gate entry. Further use of RFID technology could enhance the exchange of containers between truckers and the port.

Other issues regarding the interchange of equipment also need further analysis. As Global Container Terminal begins testing an appointment system, no port wide program has been setup thus far. Discussion of standardize late gates has also yielded no results to date. These will need continued review as more containers hit the ground in years to come.

A Master Plan emerges

Ocean carriers feel that 8,500 to 10,000 TEU ships will become the workhorses of Panama Canal Traffic going forward. It remains to be seen whether growth in the Asian trade will warrant the continued influx of ships over 10,000 TEUs into the U.S. East Coast. With the raising of the Bayonne Bridge, ships in that class can be worked at all of the port’s facilities by 2017. By the same analogy as above, the additional volume generated by a 10,000 TEU vessel is only 25% more than the 8,500s seen at area terminals today. Those 1,400 boxes could be integrated into current operations with some improvement in lifts per hour and better control of container stacking and retrieval. That said the port would be remiss if it didn’t plan for the onslaught of 12,500 to 13,000 TEU ships.

The port commerce department has commissioned Hatch Associates to survey the current infrastructure and develop a master plan for growth and development through the next 25 years.

With a continued eye on better handling and container turnaround the next step will be to improve that “First Mile” out of the gate. How PANYNJ addresses the “First Mile” is likely to be a function of port community input as well as the port authority’s own planning.

Matt Guasco's avatar

American Journal of Transportation