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The Big Boat Is Here

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The Marco Polo, the largest cargo ship to call at an East Coast port, arrives under the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and into New York Harbor on May 20, 2021 in New York City. The 1,300 foot ship is owned and operated by the French transport company CMA CGM Group. The Marco Polo, which is only slightly smaller than the container ship that got stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal in March, will arrive into the Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal and spend two days there before leaving for Norfolk, Virginia.
Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images (Getty Images)

BoatlopnikBecause boats are cars too

International shipping is currently a bit of a mess, but thanks to some costly updates in infrastructure, ports on the U.S. East Coast are now able to receive ships like the CMA CGM Marco Polo, which arrived in New York City on Thursday. Almost the size of the Ever Given that got stuck in the Suez Canal, the Marco Polo is the largest ship to ever visit the American East Coast ports.

Even before everyone’s favorite cargo ship, the Ever Given, blocked the Suez Canal back in March, ports were overwhelmed and the cost of shipping containers skyrocketed. Now that manufacturing is ramping up from its COVID-19 delay, space in shipping containers comes at a dear price. From Bloomberg:

The super-charged rally in commodity prices has made shipping more expensive than any time in the past decade, reviving the fortunes of an industry that was on its knees just a year ago.

The scale of the boom, with red-hot demand almost everywhere on the back of a broad economic recovery and vast stimulus programs, has stretched global shipping as products such as soybeans and logs compete with traditional cargo mainstays of coal and iron ore. The surge also highlights the pressures the commodities industry is under to meet that growth.

More expensive shipping means bigger ships can make a ton of money by moving more goods, making mega ships like the Marco Polo or yes, the Ever Given, gold mines for their owners and a prayer answered for companies looking to move stuff. Still, there have been delays, not only because of the volume of goods moving around the world, but due to natural disasters like overloaded cargo ships losing record amounts of containers in historic storms or the Ever Given beaching itself and blocking the Suez Canal for six days in March during an intense wind storm.

It wasn’t until recently that East Coast ports could even handle ships like the Marco Polo, because of how high they stack their containers. From the Associated Press:

While Los Angeles has been able to accommodate ships that can carry the equivalent of 23,000 20-foot containers — a cargo unit known as a TEU — Atlantic ports still can’t handle boats that big. As recently as four years ago a ship the size of the Marco Polo would have bypassed the ports of New Jersey and New York because the Bayonne Bridge, which connects New Jersey and Staten Island, was too low and the port system’s waterways were too shallow.

Spurred by the expansion of the Panama Canal last decade that allowed larger ships to pass through, New Jersey/New York and other East Coast ports scrambled to capitalize.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey spent nearly $2 billion to raise the bridge by 64 feet, a feat that required keeping the existing roadway until a higher roadway was built on top of it; a separate project costing about the same amount deepened the channel in New York harbor.

Savannah’s port, the fourth-busiest container port in the country, is in the final stages of a six-year, roughly $1 billion project to deepen the shipping channel. Officials expect the port to have handled 5 million containers in the current fiscal year ending June 30, just four years after surpassing 4 million for the first time.

The Marco Polo can stack some 16,000 20-foot long containers on its decks and now, it just barely squeezes below the Bayonne Bridge. Seems like money well spent on our garbage infrastructure.

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