AL.com reports, two massive new container cranes arrived in Mobile on Saturday afternoon, completing a two-month voyage from China. When installed, they’ll increase capacity at the APM Terminals facility enough to allow the current growth trend to continue for years.
As The Alabama State Port Authority prepared to welcome two colossal new cranes on Saturday, some of the ones already in place, such as these at the steel shipping terminal on Pinto Island, across the Mobile River from downtown Mobile, went about their work.
As with container cranes, the steel terminal cranes are designed to transfer loads from ships to land, or vice-versa. These also can transfer loads to barges for river shipping.
The two new cranes are just visible in the distance at the left of frame. The gantries in the middle are part of the McDuffie Coal Terminal. The blue container cranes at the right were installed at the APM Terminals container facility in 2008. The new cranes began their voyage up the Mobile Ship Channel at about 10 a.m. Saturday, arriving at the docks after 2 p.m. It was the last leg of a long, slow voyage that began in China in late April.
The M/V Zen Hua 23 carries the new cranes, built by Chinese company ZPMC, past McDuffie Coal Terminal. The gray hull visible at left belongs to the U.S. Navy and is used by the U.S. Coast Guard for training exercises.
A motorboat passes in front of the ship bringing the towering new cranes into Mobile.
The new cranes pass in front of the older ones they will augment at APM Terminals. The older units are classed as “post-Panamax,” with a reach spanning 19 rows of shipping containers. The new “super post-Panamax” cranes have a capacity of 100 long tons and can handle container loads 22 to 23 units wide, stacked 10 units high on deck.
“They’re equal to the biggest cranes in the world,” said Jimmy Lyons, director of the Alabama State Port Authority. “They’ll handle the biggest ships in the world.” On the Gulf Coast, he said, only the port of Houston has comparable container cranes. Lyons said the new cranes can handle ships carrying up to 20,000 TEUs; by comparison, he estimated the load of the container ship docked across the river at about 4,500 TEUs. (A TEU, or Twenty-food Equivalent Unit, means a load equivalent to one standard 20-foot shipping container.)
“Eventually what we want to be able to do is work four cranes on a vessel,” said Wendy Robertson, general manager of operations for APM Terminals Mobile. She explained that the new cranes will work side by side with the older ones, and will move along tracks allowing them to be positioned as needed, to serve one ship or two. Robertson said that flexibility will be particularly handy when Walmart’s new distribution center west of Mobile goes into operation next year. Lyons said being able to unload ships faster is a big deal: “The whole idea of these ships is to spend the minimum time in port,” he said. “They run very tight schedules.”
The new cranes were part of a $50 million “Phase 2” development at the APM Terminals facility; the project also involved developing 20 acres of land at the facility, Robertson said. In 2016, a record-breaking year, APM handled 277,307 TEUs. The new cranes and other work will expand the site’s capacity from 350,000 TEUs to 500,000 TEUs. That’s vital, because the Walmart project alone is expected to bring about 50,000 TEUs a year through the port.
Tugs push the M/V Zen Hua 23 into place at the APM Terminals facility. Robertson said it will take several days to prepare the cranes for their transfer to land. The move itself will take two days, she said, probably Wednesday and Thursday. After that it’ll take up to 90 days to install the cranes and prepare them for use.
Alabama State Port Authority Director Jimmy Lyons said the rapid growth in container shipping that Mobile saw in 2016 has continued in 2017. “We’re feeling pretty good about this year being another good growth year for us,” he said. The new cranes, visible at right, will make it possible for continued growth in the years ahead.
Seen from the Pinto Steel Terminal on the east side of the river, the new cranes tower over the dock where they’ll soon be installed as a new feature of the Mobile skyline.