The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin called on the Ports of Los Angeles and Oakland recently in its maiden voyage to North American west coast ports.

Is Rupert ready for mega ships?

Multiple residents know quite well that the deepest, natural ice-free harbour in North America can be found in Prince Rupert

Multiple residents and industry personnel know quite well that the deepest, natural ice-free harbour in North America can be found in Prince Rupert, and its advantages are many.

It’s a factoid that’s well-known throughout the Rupert community and held up as a sort of badge of pride.

But the biggest and most obvious advantage may be exploited even further down the road, as the size of ships calling on the various terminals at the Port of Prince Rupert are set to increase exponentially, specifically in the container shipping industry.

A report by the LA Times in late December notes that a container ship as long as the Empire State Building is tall (the CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin) unloaded at the Port of Los Angeles on Boxing Day.

These water behemoths are becoming more and more common as shipping companies seek to lessen costs by shipping more with less fuel and fewer sailings.

The sheer depth of the harbour in Prince Rupert positions the port as a premier destination for these massive cargo container ships – the capacity of which, such as the Benjamin Franklin, can carry 18,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) on one load.

To put that into perspective, the Prince Rupert Port Authority recently announced its record-breaking year of 2015 in which its Fairview Container Terminal moved 776,000 TEUs in the entire calendar year of 2015, and in November of last year, the terminal handled nearly 58,000 TEUs in the entire month.

Prince Rupert Port Authority Michael Gurney explained last week the significance of the terminal’s northward expansion, which will increase the capacity of the port to handle more and more TEUs per year than ever before.

“The cranes and mechanisms at Fairview can handle ships of the nature [such as the Benjamin Franklin],” he said.

“One of the biggest advantages that Prince Rupert has over other intermodal facilities is the fact that trains can be ‘built’ right on the terminal. That means that containers don’t need to be trucked to a different location before they are loaded onto outbound trains, or vice-versa. The terminal was built with efficiency in mind.”

Gurney went on to explain that the need for dredging is non-existent in Prince Rupert due to the depth of the harbour.

“Interestingly, the new cranes which are part of the northern expansion of the terminal will handle wider ships. They are rated as ‘Malacca Max’ cranes, with a reach of 25 containers. The current ‘Ultra-Post-Panamax’ cranes have a reach of 22 containers,” he explained.

The Port of Prince Rupert is expected to be able to handle ships of the Benjamin Franklin’s size even before the Port of Vancouver, which should be able to accomodate them “early next decade” as per the LA Times.

In response to the Port’s record-breaking year at Fairview, Gurney congratulated the staff working within the port for a job well done in 2015.

“Considering the record year for container volumes that was just achieved, we want to recognize the hardworking women and men at the terminal who made that success possible. The efficiency and growth of Fairview Terminal is a testament to an exemplary force. The fact that Prince Rupert’s container operation continues to be one of North America’s fastest-growing terminals while a significant expansion is under construction right next door makes this achievement all the more significant,” he said.