French ocean carrier CMA CGM is planning to put its newest ship, the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, into the transpacific trade later this month.
The ship, which has a capacity of 17,859 TEUs, according to ocean liner schedule and capacity database BlueWater Reporting, is deployed in the carrier’s Yangtse service, which has a port rotation of Shanghai, Ningbo, Pusan, Los Angeles, Oakland, and back to Shanghai.
According to CMA CGM's online service schedules, the giant ship is scheduled to make it's first call at Los Angeles on Dec. 26. The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin would be the largest ship to ever call a U.S. port and is much larger than other ships in the same string. The YM Utmost, for example, which sails the week before the Benjamin Franklin, has a capacity of 8,208 TEUs.
Port executives speaking during a panel discussion at the Informa Cargo Logistics America conference in San Diego on Tuesday all said they expect an increase in the size of containerships calling at their ports in the next few years.
“The ocean carriers do not give a lot of advance notice because they are reacting to the marketplace," added Snyder. "They have mobile assets and they want to put them where they are most effective.
“You know what is coming out...but it is a chicken and egg scenario – do you want spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to accommodate a ship that may or may not come? That is where the tension is. I think we are going to be seeing 18,000-TEU and maybe in a few years 20,000-22,000-TEU ships.
“It would be great if the ocean carriers had the ability to predict the marketplace and where they are going to deploy their assets,” he said.
Susan Coffey, director of the commercial group at the Northwest Seaport Alliance, said Seattle and Tacoma are anticipating an 18,000-TEU ship will call one of its terminals as well. Today the ports’ terminals regularly see 10,000-TEU ships and have worked ships as large as 13,000 TEUs.
Miller said the port does not anticipate ships larger than 10,000 TEUs until the project to raise the Bayonne Bridge in New York/New Jersey is completed. But he said carriers have provided the port with details on the dimensions of 14,000-TEU ships that might be put into service in the future.
Eric Olafson, manager of trade development at the Port of Miami, said his port anticipates 14,000-TEU ships may begin calling the port once the expanded Panama Canal opens next year. But he noted that on a recent trip to Asia, major ocean carriers expressed to him the opinion that 8,000-10,000-TEU ships “are going to be the workhorse.”
The panelists were asked if such big ships are good or bad, as they are thought to have commoditized the Asia-Europe trade where most of those big ships operate today.
Miller noted freight rates from Asia to the U.S. East Coast have fallen massively — from more than $5,000 per FEU early this year to below $1,700 per FEU in recent weeks, according to the Shanghai Shipping Exchange.
“There is a lot of pressure on us as we sign direct contracts with ocean carriers,” he said.
Charleston is an operating port, and has seen the number of contracts it signs with container carriers drop dramatically over the past two decades from about 15-25 to a handful, he said, as the carriers have organized themselves into four big alliances that handle about 95 percent of container trade.
That creates pressure on ports from a commercial standpoint, to provide infrastructure, and to increase the flow and velocity of cargo moving through their facilities, added Miller.