WILMINGTON — The 1,200-foot MV Hyundai Hope crept up the Cape Fear River on Wednesday evening through thick sheets of rain before tugboats pushed the container ship back downriver, guiding it to dock beneath four lit-up cranes at the Port of Wilmington.
At that point it became the largest ship to ever dock at the port, a month after North Carolina Ports completed the final phase of infrastructure improvements to accommodate ultra-large container vessels (ULCVs).
According to NC Ports spokeswoman Bethany Welch, there are no larger ships that reach the United State’s east coast. With a carrying capacity of nearly 14,000 20-foot containers, ships that size have been able to traverse from Asia to the East Coast through the Panama Canal since 2016, when the canal’s capacity was doubled.
The ship’s length and width is comparable to three and one-third football fields.
Flying under a South Korean flag, the giant vessel first passed the port at 6:10 p.m. before stopping several hundred feet up the river as the rain began to pour. Two tugboats pushed against the ship’s bow, allowing for a slow U-turn on its way back downriver to dock at the port. Four minutes before 7 p.m., the ship was moored beneath the port’s 150-foot-tall cranes.
Welch said roughly 1,600 to 1,800 containers in total will be unloaded and loaded during the ship’s stay at the port. Imports consist largely of products that will be sold at retail stores like electronics, clothing, home goods, tools, and equipment, according to Welch, while agricultural and forestry products (timber, pork, soybean meals, etc.) will be loaded back onto the vessel.
Before reaching Wilmington, the ship had traveled north from Cartagena, Colombia, to New York. Welch said the ship will now head to Savannah, Georgia, then back north to Charleston before retracing its route to Asia.
“What’s really exciting is — this is the largest ship that is reaching the East Coast. And to think only a few ports along the coast can accommodate a ship of that size is really amazing,” Welch said.
Above: A tugboat pulls the MV Hyundai Hope from the stern and while two others the bow downriver as it slowly turns back toward the Port of Wilmington. (Video courtesy NC Ports)
In the beginning of April, North Carolina Ports Executive Director Paul Cozza called the completion of the Turning Basin Expansion Project, which allowed for vessels up to 1,200 feet in length to dock at the port, a “significant milestone for North Carolina Ports.”
“The completion of this project ushers NC Ports and the Port of Wilmington into the big ship era,” he said on April 7.
The expansion project widened the river’s turning basin — the width of the river near a port necessary for ships to turn and reverse direction — from 1,400 feet to 1,524 feet. The first phase of the project increased the turning basin from 1,200 feet to 1,400 feet in 2016.
In February, NC Ports added 2,600 feet of container berth space, allowing for two ULCVs to be docked at once. This came a week after Duke Energy completed upgrades to transmission towers in the Cape Fear River and replaced existing lines, raising those lines a total of 41 feet to allow for larger ships to pass underneath. This increased the capable ‘air draft’ — the distance from the water’s surface to the top of a ship — to 212 feet.
By summer 2019, the port had added three new cranes designed to accommodate 14,000-TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) vessels.
The projects are a part of NC Ports’ $250-million-plus capital improvement initiative to add container berth space, expand the river’s turning basin, deepen the harbor, expand the container yard, and build a new container gate complex.
View more pictures of the MV Hyundai Hope docking at the Port of Wilmington below.
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