The Port of Virginia set a record Saturday for handling the heaviest containership on the U.S. East Coast when the MSC Chicago
sailed through the 50-foot channel with export cargo at a draft of 49 feet, according to the port authority.
Export cargo often consists of grains, waste paper, machinery and other heavy products that typically weigh more than imports of consumer goods, making it difficult for ocean carriers to fully load vessels with full containers in many ports.
The 50-foot channel is a key advantage over rival ports that the Virginia Port Authority is touting in the competition to attract exponentially larger new vessels coming through the Suez Canal, or in 2015 through the expanded Panama Canal, from Asia.
Early last year, the Port of Virginia set the previous record for handling the deepest-loaded container vessel when the MSC Roma
cruised through drafting 48.5 feet.
Coal colliers have benefited for years from the deep draft in Hampton Roads. Last year, the Port of Virginia set a record when 160,000 tons of metallurgical coal was loaded into a vessel bound for China. Virginia is the largest coal exporting port in the United States and last year moved almost 50 million tons of coal.
Harbor depth is one of the factors that has enabled the Port of Virginia to capture some coveted first-in and last-out container services calling on East Coast ports, which benefits shippers with shorter transit times because inventory isn't traveling up and down the coast to other U.S. ports.
The MSC Chicago
(capacity 9,178 TEUs) unloaded and loaded at the ultra-modern APM Terminal in Portsmouth. It is deployed in Mediterranean Shipping Co.'s Golden Gate Service, which links the U.S. East Coast to Asia via the Suez Canal. Virginia is the last North American stop on the route before the vessel departs for Asia.
In February 2012, MSC changed the Golden Gate Service's rotation to make a double-call in Norfolk and make it the last departure destination. The Golden Gate rotation includes Hong Kong, Chiwan, Yantian, Shanghai, Ningbo, Singapore, Salalah, Suez Canal transit, New York, Norfolk, Baltimore, Savannah, Freeport (Bahamas), Charleston, Norfolk, Suez Canal transit, Jeddah, Colombo, Singapore, Chiwan and Hong Kong. - Eric Kulisch