East Coast Port Services Its Largest Container Ship Ever

The largest-capacity container ship ever to service the East Coast docked Monday at the Port of Virginia’s International Gateway terminal. 

The arrival of the COSCO SHIPPING Lines Co. Ltd. Vessel from Hong Kong is being hailed in the industry as the start of the “big ship era” for East Coast ports. The ship arrived almost 11 months after the Panama Canal reopened following a nine-year, $5-billion expansion. The new, 50-foot-deep channels can accommodate the new standard of larger international container vessels. 

Panama Canal

U.S. Atlantic Coast ports, along with their private- and public-sector partners and the federal government, have spent billions of dollars to dredge harbors and navigation channels to the 50-foot standard and upgrade facilities to accept the larger vessels. 

The arrival of the COSCO’s Development, a 13,000 twenty-foot-equivalent unit (TEU) ship, demonstrates that the money invested in expanding facilities was money well-spent, according John F. Reinhart, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority. 

“This vessel is taking full advantage of our 50-foot channels and an expanded Panama Canal,” Reinhart said in a press release. “As the ships get bigger there are corresponding cargo loads.” 

“From this day forward, we’ll be seeing vessels of this size with regularity,” he said. 

Before its expansion, the Panama Canal could accommodate no ships larger than 5,000 TEUs and the biggest ship to arrive at the Port of Virginia before the Development was about 10,000 TEUs. 

COSCO is part of the four-carrier OCEAN Alliance, which also includes CMA-CGM, Evergreen Marine Corp. Taiwan Ltd., and Orient Overseas International Ltd. 

The Development is one of 11 ships that will service the U.S. East Coast through the OCEAN Alliance’s South Atlantic Express service, as part of a rotation that will also include Hong Kong, Yantian, Ningbo, Shanghai, Panama, Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina. The Port of Virginia is one of just four East Coast ports currently able to handle the larger ships traversing the expanded Panama Canal.