A crowd gathered along Dennis Collins Park on Thursday morning to watch one of the new behemoth container ships, the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, navigate the newly-deepened Kill Van Kull and under the newly-raised Bayonne Bridge. Four times the size of the Statue of Liberty at 14,414 TEU capacity (meaning the ship can hold about 14,414 containers) and 1,200 feet long, it’s the 71stlargest container ships in the world and the largest to pass through the Panama Canal, which it did on August 28.
The CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, built this year, was chosen to commemorate the Bayonne Bridge, which was elevated by 64 feet, from 151 to 219 feet as part of the Raise the Roadway Project. The spectacle also displayed the success of the$2.1 billion Main Navigation Channel Deepening Project, which started in 2004 and deepened the harbor by 50 feet to allow for such container ships to access the terminals at Port Newark, GCT Bayonne, and the Howland Hook Marine Terminal.
While certainly the largest, the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt was not the first Neo-Panamax to pass through the Kill Van Kull. The OOCL Berlin, a 13,2000-TEU container ship, passed underneath the bridge on July 17, setting the record for the largest ship to pass under the bridge until now.
The journeys of the two ships are similar – both leaving from Hong Kong, traveling through the Panama Canal and up the East Coast, stopping at the seaboard’s largest port at the Port of New York and New Jersey, which is also the country’s third largest behind two others in southern California.
The size of these floating skyscrapers is spectacular. It’s hard to imagine that locals will ever get used to seeing them passing under the bridge. The raised Bayonne Bridge can now accommodate ships up to 18,000 TEUs, which would be considered “Triple-E” container ships, a full size above the 12,500-TEU Neo-Panamax ships.
While certainly the largest, the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt was not the first Neo-Panamax to pass through the Kill Van Kull.
It started in Panama
Raising the clearance of the Bayonne Bridge and deepening the channels around the Port of New York and New Jersey coalesced with the Panama Canal expansion that was completed in June of 2016. That project added a new lane for more traffic and Neo-Panamax ships to pass through, which have drafts of 48 feet or more and can carry twice as much cargo as the previous Panamax ships.
Both Neo-Panamax and Triple E container ships came into the international shipping business around the same time in 2014 and 2013, respectively. Container ships were introduced in the 1950s alongside new steel intermodal freight (shipping) containers that were standardized based on U.S. Department of Defense specifications. This way, the same container could fit neatly onto a truck, a rail car, and a ship, thereby reducing the cost of shipping.
While the size of the shipping container has remained fixed for more than half a century, the ships that carry them have dramatically increased in size, starting with the “Fully Cellular” ships in 1970, which more than tripled the capacity of the 1950s-era ships. Then the first Panamax ships doubled the Fully Cellular ships’ capacities in 1980 with capacity for up to 3,400 TEUs. Ships steadily grew in size over the years with the 3,400-TEUPanamax Max in 1985, the 4,000-TEU Post-Panamax in 1988, and the 6,000-TEU Post-Panamax Plus in 2000. You can imagine Bayonne residents of those eras lining the same shoreline to marvel at the newest and biggest ships passing, each packing more cargo than the last.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at email@example.com.