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New era dawns at Port of Los Angeles as megaship arrives

The largest container ship to ever make port in North America unloads its cargo in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, CA on Saturday, December 26, 2015. After making its maiden voyage from China, where it was built, the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin arrived before dawn with its cargo. The ship can carry 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), which is about a ...

PHOTOS: Giant cargo ship berths in San Pedro


By Greg Yee, Press-Telegram

POSTED: 12/26/15, 7:04 PM PST | UPDATED: 13 HRS AGO

The mammoth CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin arrived in San Pedro on Saturday. The container ship, which is nearly 20 stories tall and longer than the Empire State Building if it were placed on its side, is the largest and most technologically advanced cargo vessel in North America.
Photos by Scott Varley — Staff Photographer

SAN PEDRO >> A massive, blue ship that called at the Port of Los Angeles in the predawn hours Saturday was the capstone to a record-setting year for Los Angeles, local leaders said.

The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin is the largest container ship ever to dock at a North American port. It is longer than the Empire State Building is tall, wider than a football field and as tall as a 20-story building.

That size, combined with advances in technology, makes it environmentally friendly, and local leaders say it’s the first wave in a bright future for shipping and goods movement in the Los Angeles area.


Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the San Pedro area, called the Benjamin Franklin incredible and said a ship of this magnitude has the potential to impact the local economy in a measurable way.

“This ship represents a type of efficiency that will ensure that this port complex remains globally competitive,” Buscaino said.

 “Today there are seven gangs of longshore (workers) working this ship, which equals about 150 people. Container movement is the heart of our economy here in the harbor area.”

The Benjamin Franklin offers the lowest carbon dioxide emissions-per-container, per kilometer at 37 grams, and has met 2025 emissions standards, he said.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the ship’s arrival caps off a remarkable year for the city that saw record-breaking numbers of visitors and airport travelers as well as strong numbers out of the port.

• Photos: Giant cargo ship berths in San Pedro

More than a million jobs can be traced back to the Port of LA, Garcetti said. Across the country, one in 200 jobs come from the port and when combined with the Port of Long Beach, the region accounts for 40 percent of all goods that reach the United States from the sea.

“When I look up at this ship, I don’t just see a 20-story building,” he said. 

“I see a reminder of what is possible when we all come together in this town.”

The Benjamin Franklin is a third larger than the largest ship previously seen in the Port of Los Angeles. Its load includes 18,000 TEUs filled with the usual imports — items like auto parts, clothing, furniture, electronics and shoes. A TEU is roughly the size of a standard, 20-foot-long shipping container.


Steve Trombley, managing director of APM Terminals, said Saturday’s historic berth began with plans laid out 22 years ago.

“These giant ships were still a fantasy,” Trombley said. “We want to prove to the world that Los Angeles is big ship ready.”

Rep. Janice Hahn said she too finds herself looking backwards as much as she’s looking toward the future.

Without a massive dredging project to create a deeper channel, building of on-dock rail systems, taller cranes and a skilled workforce, the port could not have accommodated a ship as large as the Benjamin Franklin, she said.

The work done by city, port, labor and shipping leaders shows that the Port of Los Angeles can continue to compete on a global scale, but work must also be done to ensure that the proper transportation infrastructure is in place on land.

If the goods shipped on megaships can not be unloaded and taken to warehouses efficiently then that will lead to landside congestion, Hahn said.


Marc Bourdon, president of CMA CGM American operations, said the France-based company has operated in the United States since 1995, has 10 offices and employs more than 900 people. The company is the third-largest carrier in the United States as well as globally.

“The question keeps coming back on whether U.S. port infrastructure is actually ready for this size of vessels,” Bourdon said. 

“Well, they are not exactly quite ready yet. Some ports are ready. The reality is a ship like this will not be able to get deployed on a permanent basis until more ports are ready to accommodate them.”

Although the Benjamin Franklin arrived in Los Angeles carrying shipping containers stacked seven high instead of its full capacity of 10 containers high, improvements to APM Terminal cranes will allow for the full load by the end of 2016, he said.

For those gathered Saturday morning, the mega ships arrival was a sign that the Port of Los Angeles was ready even as other ports work to catch up.

Saturday morning’s arrival in Los Angeles is the first in a string of test runs planned at other West Coast ports, he said.

Bourdon also praised the collaboration between elected officials, labor representatives and port leaders.

For many leaders present at Saturday morning’s tour of the massive ship and press conference, the path forward, it seemed, was clear: continue to collaborate, train skilled workers and invest in infrastructure.

Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said that the journey was only beginning.

“We will continue to answer the call of the changing advent of global trade,” Seroka said.

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