Bigger, broader, better

25 October 2021


The pandemic has revealed a global shipping industry that is stretched to and sometimes beyond the limit. Julian Champkin investigates the response of ports and docks and finds that size does matter.

A sudden pandemic shut-down of industries worldwide, followed a few weeks later by an almostequally- sudden bounce back in demand, left the ports system of the world disrupted and in chaos. Loading and unloading schedules collapsed, stalling imports and exports. Then a single ship wedged across the Suez Canal for just six days came uncomfortably close to paralysing world trade altogether.

Huge container ships queued at anchor, sometimes for weeks, for slots at ports to unload, costing ship-owners great sums and the intended recipients of the goods still greater sums in delays and in orders that they could not fulfil.

In Britain, supermarkets saw empty shelves; and even IKEA, that epitome of offthe- shelf consumer gratification, lamented that “too many products are missing from our stores,” and began buying its own containers, and chartering its own ships, in an effort to surmount the delays.

If nothing else, the combination of the pandemic and the container ship Ever Given have focused world attention on world trade and supply chains – which in effect means on shipping and, more crucially still, on the ports that handle that shipping. “The logistics sector is so finely tuned that just a relatively small shift in the supply-demand balance caused significant challenges.” That is how Mark Whitworth, CEO of Peel Ports, which operates seven ports in the UK and Ireland, described it in a white paper in September 2020. Possibly some understatement is involved.

Size and scale are fundamental to the equations. Are bigger ships, and bigger equipment to load and unload them, the answers to the strains on the supply system worldwide? Port owners and operators seem to be working on that assumption. Bigger and deeper quayside berths, and longer and more efficient unloading gantries, were being ordered before the pandemic and many are being delivered now. In ship sizes the Panamax container ships of the 1980s, carrying up to 4,000 TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalents – ie standard shipping containers) have been surpassed by post-Panamax vessels (8,000 TEU), then New- or Neo-Panamax (12,500 TEU) and, by 2006, the Very Large Container Ships or VLCS of up to 14,500 TEUs. In 2019, the first Megamax-24 ships were delivered, carrying up to 25,000 TEUs in 24 rows across stacked up to 10 high above the deck. Ports and port equipment have been expanding in step.

Florida’s Port Everglades is an example. The port, set in Broward County facing the Atlantic, received three Super Post- Panamax container gantry cranes on November 17, 2020; they are the largest of their kind in the world. In March this year the new cranes were commissioned. They are part of the Port’s $3 billion 20-Year Master Vision Plan Update, which will add new cargo berths, expand cruise and energy capacity and improve navigation channels to handle larger ships. The three 53 metre-high Super Post-Panamax container gantry cranes, costing $13.8 million apiece, have the ability to handle containers stacked eight high from a ship’s deck and reach 22 containers across the ship’s deck – the arrangement as carried by VLCS. Port Everglades’ existing seven gantry cranes in the Southport area, where most of the containerized cargo operations takes place, are only 46 metres high and can handle only containers stacked six high and 16 across.

The backreach of the cranes is 10.6m with the boom fully extended, and they have a capacity of 66t. Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co. (ZPMC) designed and manufactured the cranes as special “low-profile” models that extend out rather than up to avoid the flight path of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which is less than two miles away. They are reportedly the largest low-profile container gantry cranes ever designed and built. Port Everglades plans to exercise an option to buy three more of the same cranes as soon as it receives approval from the local planning authority.

All the cranes are being fitted with lighting that reduces the impact on nesting sea turtles by using lower light levels and limits the amount of light that spreads on the ground.

As well as purchasing the new cranes, the Port is upgrading its seven existing low-profile Post-Panamax gantry cranes in Southport to a lift capacity of 65 tons from the current 46.5 tons; the change will add the capability to perform twin-picks, lifting two containers at a time.

The cranes are part of the largest expansion project in the port’s history, which includes lengthening the Southport Turning Notch from 900 feet to 2,400 feet to allow for up to five new cargo berths which will add about 730,000 TEUs to the port’s capacity. Construction for the $471 million project is ongoing and expected to be complete by late 2022. Port Everglades is also working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the port’s navigation channels from 42 feet to 48-50 feet and to widen narrower sections of the channel for safer passage of large vessels.

Austria has no coastline, so might be thought of as an unlikely candidate for another ‘world’s largest’ title in port equipment. But it is claiming exactly that: its port at Enns, where the river of that name meets the Danube, is one of the most important inland ports in Europe. Operated by Danubia Speicherei it has 2,500 m of dockside space. At the height of the pandemic it assembled and commissioned what is claimed as the world’s largest material handler, a giant Sennebogen 895.

It was a special commission for a special situation: “The port handles material of all kinds, from grains and fertilisers to salt and general cargo,” says Georg Dobesberger, the port’s MD. “The existing solution of two rope-driven harbour cranes was out of date, spare parts were becoming more and more expensive, and the handling volume at their quay was continuously increasing. Today around 950,000 tonnes of material of all kinds is being handled every year.

“What is special, though, is that the quay walls are rather high, depending on the water level – and only the 895 with its enormous dimensions was able to meet all of the requirements in terms of range, depth and speed.”

The machine has a rail gantry adapted to the gauge width of the existing rails, a reach of 35m, and a port cab that can be elevated and lowered by seven metres.

The electrical power supply covers 300m distance of travel via a motorised cable reel.

“The power option is both resourceand environmentally- friendly,” says Dobesberger, “And because of lower electricity prices, it also makes sense from a financial point of view.” A quick-change system switches between various grab applications for handling heavy and light bulk materials and general cargo. “The greatest flexibility, though, is that we can now unload ships along the entire length of the quay,” says Dobesberger.

On Europe’s northern coast, the German port of Bremerhaven at the mouth of the Weser is also expanding. North Sea Terminal Bremerhaven is a container terminal handling more than 3 million TEU annually. In January it took delivery of four Liebherr ship to shore (STS) container cranes. This is in addition to the six already working at the port.

The cranes are identical to those previously supplied and with an outreach of 73 m, a span of 30.48 m and a backreach of 25m are amongst the largest STS cranes in the world.

The cranes are designed to work vessels with up to 10 storeys of containers piled on their decks, and stacked up to 25 across.

As we have seen, the largest current ships, the Megamax-24 class, stack 24 containers across. The cranes are therefore futureproofed, able to handle generations of ultra large container vessels yet to be built.

(There is a consensus that 25 containers across is nearing the commercial limit of container-ship size. Few routes would be available to larger ships, and they would need almost-full cargoes to operate profitably; waiting in port to acquire them would severely limit flexibility.)

As well as being amongst the largest, the cranes are also some of the most advanced. Liebherr Automation Systems allow semi-automatic moves; manual intervention is needed only when operating below a predefined safe height. The port operates straddle carriers on the landside and the cranes are equipped with a yard monitoring system which scans the operational area for obstacles, hazards or straddle carriers, and will allow placement of the container at the target position only when it is safe.

Innovative straddle carrier lane covers open only over the active lane, providing protection for those on the ground. Laser anti-collision systems, and a vessel drift compensation system, provide safety.

“We have invested in these large stateof- the-art cranes not only for the present, but also for the future,” says Christian Lankenau, managing director of the port.

“They are a key part of our growth and expansion plans.”

Meanwhile, across the pond, Logistec Stevedoring a dry bulk terminal operator at the Port of Montreal, has ordered a Gottwald Model 7 Mobile Harbor Crane from Konecranes to improve its technology and eco-efficiency. The order was booked in June 2021. The crane will be used to handle dry bulk cargo such as scrap metal and will be delivered in October this year.

The Port of Montreal serves Toronto and central Canada as well as the Midwest and Northeast of the United States, with almost half of its import traffic coming from Europe. It therefore needs to be able always to manage a 24/7 continuous flow of freight. “The new crane is a Model 7 Mobile Harbor Crane in the G HMK 7608 B variant,” says Alan Garcia, sales manager, Port Solutions Americas, Konecranes. “It has a maximum radius of 54 m and can service bulk vessels up to Capesize class.

It has smart crane features and a maximum lifting capacity of 150t which make it versatile enough to handle almost any kind of dry bulk cargo. It is equipped with external power supply to use power from the harbor main for eco-efficient operation.

For working independently from this power source the Model 7 uses an onboard diesel engine which fulfills the latest emission standard EPA Tier 4f.”

Another Konecranes order is from Jamaica, where terminal operator Kingston Wharves (KWL) has ordered an ecoefficient Konecranes Gottwald Model 8 Mobile Harbor Crane to serve – here the big ships come again - Super-Post Panamax vessels. Kingston is evolving into a major maritime logistics hub of the Caribbean.

“Regional trade is expanding, so this order is part of a comprehensive strategic upgrade to our equipment and facilities,” says Mark F. Williams, CEO of KWL.

The crane is a Model 8 Mobile Harbor Crane in the G HMK 8510 variant. It has a maximum radius of 61m for servicing container vessels; a maximum lifting capacity of 125t make it flexible enough to handle general and heavy project cargo as well. Konecranes this year has also sold its Gottwald mobile harbor cranes to Belgium, Brazil Cameroon, Nigeria and Denmark.

Its Generation 6 cranes have electrical power from cable, battery-pack, onboard generator, or a hybrid combination, with smart management systems included.

Liverpool is England’s only west-facing large container port. It is also now a freeport, one of eight created in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring 2021 budget. (The others announced then are Thames, Solent, East Midlands, Freeport East (Felixstowe and Harwich), Plymouth and South Devon, Humber and Teeside.) At a freeport, imports can enter with simplified customs documentation and without paying tariffs. The port has been investing accordingly. “The £400m investment we have made on the Liverpool 2 container terminal is a huge enabler,” said David Huck, MD, Peel Ports.

“It’s the combination of the outstanding facilities here and the freeport status for the region that will really make the difference.”

Maersk and MSC have both switched transatlantic container routes from southern English ports to Liverpool. It is estimated the free trade zone for the Liverpool City Region will contribute around £850m gross added value to the economy and create 14,000 jobs.

A large chunk of Peel Port’s investment has been spent on equipment. In March this year five cantilever rail-mounted gantry (CRMG) cranes arrived by sea as part of the deep-water terminal’s growth; those, like the Florida cranes, are Chinese, from ZPMC. They will complete the set of 22 CRMG cranes operating at Liverpool 2. The latest landside automated gates and vehicle booking systems are being installed. All this will provide capacity for growing volumes of cargo. And yes, the terminal will be able to handle what Peel Ports happily describes as “the largest container ships in the world.”

Peel Ports has also invested in two new ship-to-shore container cranes from Liebherr, for its Liverpool Terminal 1. The design uses high-tensile steel and a lattice boom and beam construction, giving a lighter crane with reduced wheel loads, a key consideration due to the narrow span and quay structure at the terminal.

Here again, ship size is the consideration. The new cranes will significantly enhance the Port of Liverpool’s capabilities for long-time client Atlantic Container Line whose current generation of Container/RORO vessel is twice as large as its predecessor but uses the same footprint in order to fit through the lock at the entrance to the port. To carry the extra cargo the ships are considerably higher, so higher state-of-the-art gantry cranes are essential to handle them. Hence the new hardware from Liebherr.

At any port, unloading is only the start. Mobile machinery is as necessary as quayside cranes – and as potentially profitable a market. Sany in July delivered three of its SDCY90K6H4 empty container handlers to Tokyo Harbour. This represents a breakthrough for the company: Sany handlers and reachstackers have been in operation worldwide for some time but this is its first entrance into Japan; the company has the goal of including all Japanese harbours on the Sany business map within the next three years. The machines have a tare weight of 38.5t, are powered by Cummins engines and have a lifting capacity of 9t with a maximum stacking height of six 8’6” containers.

Kalmar of course are long-established in mobile port machinery. In August this year they concluded an agreement with Dublin Ferryport Terminals (DFT) to extend the Kalmar AutoRTG system at the terminal with five new AutoRTG cranes over the next two years. The current system at DFT consists of four Kalmar AutoRTG cranes with fully automated stack operation and remote-controlled truck handling, controlled via three remote control desks.

Also, in August Kalmar received a fifth consecutive large order from the Port of Virginia. The order is for 18 eco-efficient Hybrid Shuttle Carriers. Fifteen of the units will be delivered to Norfolk International Terminals and three to Virginia International Gateway. These are the port’s primary container terminals and each is capable of handling the biggest container vessels in the Atlantic trade.

When the order is competed, by the end of June 2022, the customer will have altogether 92 Kalmar Hybrid Shuttle Carriers in operation at their terminals as well diesel-hydraulic Kalmar shuttles from the terminal’s original grand opening in 2007.

Liebherr’s container crane rises above the mists at Bremerhaven
Sennebogen’s 895 at Enns by the Danube
A Gottwald Model 8, ordered for Jamaica
Sany hopes its container handlers will penetrate Japan
Ship-to-shore unloading at Florida’s Port Everglades
Sennebogen’s 895 at Enns by the Danube
Konecranes’ Gottwald Model 7 Mobile Harbor Cranes in operation in Florida; more are on order for Montreal
Kalmar is well-established in the mobile port machinery industry.