Bigger cranes being readied to serve bigger ships at Port of Charleston

May 7, 2017 GMT

Wando Welch Terminal, already the Port of Charleston’s busiest shipping facility, is about to get more crowded as the State Ports Authority begins a project to extend the reach of five container cranes.

The SPA’s board voted Friday to spend $1.6 million to build a temporary work space within the Mount Pleasant terminal where the cranes will be modified so they can more easily move cargo to and from bigger ships traveling through the expanded Panama Canal.

The work includes reinforcing some of the concrete within the container yard where the larger, heavier cranes will be placed.

The temporary space will cut into an already tight terminal footprint, where an average of 5,300 trucker transactions are conducted each day.

“It is not convenient at all for us to be doing this, but it is an absolute necessity,” said Barbara Melvin, the SPA’s senior vice president of operations and terminals. “We’ll have to work around it.”

The port wants to extend the height on each crane to 155 feet, allowing them to better service container ships carrying up to 13,000 cargo boxes stacked as high as nine on top of each other.

Once completed, the cranes will join two “Super Post Panamax” cranes the SPA received last year that are already designed for use on the big ships. The SPA has ordered two more of the larger cranes, which are being built in China.

Jim Van Ness, director of engineering for the SPA, said the work space should be completed by early July.

“This turned into a larger project than we expected,” he said. “We had to drive 200 piles into the ground to build this thing.”

The first crane will be moved to the work space in August and its modifications should be completed by mid-October. All of the extensions should be finished by November 2018.

Four of the cranes to be modified are already in use at Wando Welch, with the fifth being relocated from the North Charleston Terminal. They must be moved one at a time from the waterfront to the temporary work area and then back again.

It will cost about $21.5 million to modify the five cranes to the 155-foot height. That total includes engineering design, fabrication, relocation and transportation, raising and commissioning of the cranes.

The first container ship capable of carrying 13,000 cargo boxes is scheduled to visit Wando Welch next weekend.

The COSCO Development, which started its voyage in China, will visit Norfolk, Va., and Savannah before heading to the Port of Charleston for a final stop on its trek along the East Coast. It is the largest container ship to travel through the expanded Panama Canal to the East Coast.

Jim Newsome, the SPA’s president and CEO, said he expects about 2,000 cargo boxes will be moved on and off the Development while it is in Charleston. That is about twice the number of moves for an average container ship at the port.