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1/5/2016 11:00:00 AM Write a Letter to the Editor Write a letter to the Editor

Largest Containership to Call on US Sails Home

Port of Oakland, California, leaders exulted Jan. 4 over success of the maiden visit of the mega containership CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, which tested the port's years of planning and millions of dollars spent to bring in such large ships.

"This was a milestone event," said John Driscoll, port maritime director. "We proved the Port of Oakland can handle big ships efficiently."

However, industry sources say it was a public relations visit and a test that did not answer questions about the capacity of West Coast ports to handle routine visits of fully loaded giant ships. The Benjamin Franklin carried a far from full cargo, came in on a slow holiday weekend in excellent weather and with intensive preparation.

At 3,100 feet long, the ship was the largest container vessel to ever call on the United States. It arrived on New Year's Eve and left at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 4 headed for China. It is expected back in February.

A fortuitous circumstance aided the port in its mission. It had rented time on a navigation simulator at the Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California, before learning in midsummer that the French shipping company CMA CGM planned to route the Benjamin Franklin from Asia to the West Coast.

"They told us last year this was for Asia-Europe trade, but that's in the tank now" because of the European economic slowdown, Driscoll said. "We were thinking it would come in three to five years." The Cal Maritime simulation was like a high-tech video game, Driscoll said. Nineteen bay shipping pilots used it to study moving such a big ship on the bay.

CMA CGM said that working a ship the size of the Benjamin Franklin "requires long and meticulous preparation to guarantee a flawless call and fluid operations in as little time as possible."

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By Andrew McGall
Contra Costa Times


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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