Port of Wilmington welcomes largest ship yet

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The Hanjin Baltimore container ship is the largest to ever dock at the Port of Wilmington. Courtesy of the North Carolina State Ports Authority.
The Hanjin Baltimore container ship is the largest to ever dock at the Port of Wilmington. Courtesy of the North Carolina State Ports Authority.

On Tuesday, the Port of Wilmington received the largest container ship to ever dock at the state’s biggest port.

The Hanjin Baltimore, a 984-foot long, 140-foot wide vessel, docked at the port around noon on July 5 and was expected to stay there for eight to 12 hours, according to North Carolina State Ports Authority Senior Manager of External Affairs Cliff Pyron.

The 11-year-old ship, which was built by Hyundai Heavy Industries, can hold 7,500 eight-foot tall containers measuring 20 feet in length, also known as twenty-foot equivalents (TEUs). That capacity, according to a news release, is 63 percent more than any other ship that has made port in Wilmington. Pyron said it is the first of many that are expected to make stops in the newly renovated port, with the next coming in August.

“I think we’re going to continue to see them as part of our regular service,” said Pyron. “We even expect bigger ships in the near future.”

In a release, NC Ports officials touted the readiness of Wilmington’s port, which has a 42-foot navigational channel, to handle post-Panamax (bigger than the specifications required to pass through the Panama Canal) sized ships.

“This is an important day for our ports and for the state of North Carolina,” said Executive Director Paul J. Cozza. “We’ve been working diligently on modernizing our ports, and to see our plans coming to fruition by proving that the Port of Wilmington is big ship ready is a great feeling.”

“This vessel not only signifies improving global trade, but it also represents the future,” Chief Commercial Officer Greg Fennell said. “If there was ever a doubt that we could accept a post-Panamax vessel, this ship puts that debate to rest.”

Pyron said that though the Hanjin Baltimore came to Wilmington directly from Norfolk, Virginia (after stops at other large Atlantic ports in New York and New Jersey,) it opens up a new trade route for the state.

“The Hanjin Baltimore serves Far East shipping lanes, so it came from Asia,” Pyron said, adding that though this particular ship passed through the Suez Canal, all future ships on the line will be able to pass through the newly-expanded Panama Canal. “This ship represents our ability to trade with Asia.”

According to a release from Gov. Pat McCrory’s office, improving access to the coastal ports in Wilmington and Morehead City as well as the inland ports terminals in Charlotte and Greensboro, are part of McCrory’s 25-year Vision for North Carolina.

“Our state ports are an important asset for creating jobs and connecting North Carolinians to opportunities around the world,” McCrory stated. “This important milestone shows our commitment to supporting our ports and overall economy is paying off and keeping North Carolina globally competitive.”

The Port of Wilmington is expected to be able to handle ships that can hold 10,000 TEUs later this summer, bringing more trade to the local area as well as to the state.

“This landmark event is the product of a North Carolina Ports infrastructure investment plan to meet shipping industry requirements,” said Chairman of the Board of Directors Tom Adams. “With the expansion of the Panama Canal last weekend, the Port of Wilmington is adding new cranes, an enhanced berth, a wider turning basin and will have further expansion in the future.”

The Port of Wilmington, which lies 26 miles from the Atlantic Ocean on the Cape Fear River, received over 4 million tons of container, breakbulk and bulk shipments between July 2015 and May 2016, the last month for which numbers are available. Those shipments came in a total of 262,782 TEUs, according to a report on the NC Ports website.

North Carolina ports supply 76,000 jobs statewide and account for $700 million in state and local tax revenue each year.