New container cranes the latest step in port upgrades
Wednesday, 27 June 2012 10:02

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After docking at the port’s new 50-foot container berth, workers began the arduous task of unloading the supersized cranes.photo by Nicole Rodman

Supersize cranes arrive after two months at sea

by Nicole Rodman

    Just before 6 p.m. last Wednesday, the Port of Baltimore welcomed four new supersize container cranes as they arrived after a two-month long journey over both the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
    Loaded aboard the Zhen Hua 13, the cranes departed from China in April, destined for the new 50-foot container berth just built at Baltimore’s port.
    Though the Zhen Hua 13 had arrived in the Chesapeake Bay the week before, the ship was anchored south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge while crew members prepared for the final leg of the journey.
    At 14 stories tall, the Super-Post Panamax cranes are able to handle the largest cargo in the world.
    Unfortunately, the cranes’ massive height also made maneuvering them under the Bay and Francis Scott Key bridges a delicate task.
    In order to ensure that the ship would fit under the bridges, crew members lowered the booms on each of the four cranes before passing under the bridges.
    Ballast was also added to the ship, weighing it down just enough for the ship to pass under each bridge.
    Still, even with these efforts, the clearance between the cranes and the bridges was an estimated six feet, close enough to cause the closure of both bridges for 20 minutes while the ship passed under.alt
    As onlookers gathered onshore, cameras in hand, the cranes made their way under the Bay Bridge at about 3 p.m. Wednesday.    
    Ducking under the Key Bridge around 5 p.m., the ship turned around, aided by three tug boats, and slid into port shortly before 6 p.m.
    Even seasoned port workers stood amazed, cameras ready, as the massive cranes finally arrived at their new home.
    Standing 400 feet tall in their assembled state, the cranes will be able to reach 22 containers across a cargo ship, lifting 187,300 pounds at a time.
    The 1,150-ton cranes are fully electric and, once operational, will give off no diesel emissions.
    The cranes are just one part of a 50-year agreement between the Maryland Port Administration and Ports America Chesapeake, signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2010.
    Under the terms of the agreement, Ports America runs daily operations at the Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port of Baltimore.   
    The new cranes are the final part of a multi-year expansion project in preparation for the widening of the Panama Canal, set to be completed by 2015.
    The widening of the canal will allow a new generation of superships, able to carry three times more cargo than traditional ships, to pass through.
    With the addition of the new cranes, as well as the recent completion of a new 50-foot container berth, the Port of Baltimore becomes one of only two ports on the East Coast that can accommodate the large superships.
    According to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the recent upgrades to Baltimore’s port are a key element in the economic revitalization of the southeastern part of the county.
    Last month, Kamenetz announced the formation of the Sparrows Point Partnership, a committee of 16 community and business leaders designed to figure out ways to bring new industry to the Sparrows Point peninsula.
    Kamenetz and the committee hope that the port’s ability to receive the new superships, as well as the area’s proximity to rail lines and highways, will draw new businesses into the area.
    “If we create jobs for the Sparrows Point area, [it will create] the opportunity for dollars to flow to businesses that service those businesses, as well as the small businesses people will frequent,” Kamenetz told The Eagle last month, calling the result “a positive ripple effect.”
    For now, workers at the Port of Baltimore plan to spend the next week rolling the cranes off of the ships and into place.
    Workers will assemble the cranes throughout the summer, completing work by September.
    As Ports America Chesapeake president Mark Montgomery noted, though the cranes were purchased from China, all of the assembly work will be done by union workers.

    These workers will come from local iron worker, operating engineer and electrical unions.

    “We use union employees whenever possible,” Montgomery explained in a call to The Eagle last week, noting that Ports America is the largest employer of union longshoremen in the country.
    As Montgomery explained, the cranes were bought from China rather than America only because cranes that large are not manufactured anywhere in the U.S.
    According to Montgomery, China is the premier maker of Super-Post Panamax cranes, creating each crane on a large island off the country’s coast.
    For his part, Gov. O’Malley lauded the arrival of the new cranes, saying, “The arrival of these huge cranes is a momentous day for our state and for the Port of Baltimore.”
    He added, “Our partnership is one that will ensure the future of the Port of Baltimore and provide stability for port workers.”