On the same day Charleston, S.C., was visited by the biggest containership to ever enter its harbor, the Corps of Engineers announced a $47 million dredging contract to make those port calls routine.

A week after its debut at the Port of New York and New Jersey, the 1,200’x152’ CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt passed under the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and tied up at the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Terminal.

With a 14,414-TEU container capacity, the Roosevelt is the largest containership yet to have called on East Coast ports – and the first of six in class to be built for Marseilles, France-based CMA CGM.

To accommodate those ships without tide delays, the Corps will deepen the Charleston entrance channel from 45' to a minimum 54’ depth. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company LLC, Oak Brook, Ill., will dredge six million cubic yards of material using hopper dredges, a designated offshore disposal site, and complete the work by spring 2020, Corps officials said Thursday.

Channel dredging and high bridges, like the Ravenel span and the newly elevated Bayonne Bridge straddling the approach to New Jersey container ports, are all infrastructure projects planned years in advance, anticipating the summer 2016 opening of wider locks on the Panama Canal.

For the workboat sector, the movement toward ever-larger carriers is bringing in bigger, more powerful tugboats, faster boats for pilots, and training and simulator classes for masters and crew.

“Our harbor will ultimately be the deepest on the East Coast, allowing vessels like the Roosevelt to transit without tidal restriction,” said Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina Ports Authority, in a statement marking the ship’s arrival. “Today reaffirms our efforts and investments in terminals and infrastructure to prepare for the big ships being deployed to the East Coast following the Panama Canal expansion and completion of the new Bayonne Bridge.”

Dubbed the Charleston Harbor Post 45 Deepening Project, the deepening will require a second contract to be awarded later this year, Corps officials said. And it will take time for full completion – an estimated 40 to 76 months, depending on funding, equipment availability, and environmental issues. Dredging is restricted to a December-to-March window each year to account for threatened and endangered species and fish spawning. A timeline still has to be finalized for dredging the upper and lower harbors and the Corps is looking to do those within the timeframe of the entrance channel work.

The Roosevelt and her coming sister ships will be part of the weekly OCEAN Alliance South Atlantic Express (SAX) service connecting Charleston, New York and other U.S. East Coast ports with Hong Kong, Yantian, Ningbo and Shanghai via the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal’s effect on trading patterns are showing clearly in Charleston, where 18 of its 24 weekly containership services are vessels that could not have transited the Panama Canal prior to its expansion, SCPA officials said.



Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.