The competition to host ultra-large container vessels on the U.S. East Coast is holding a new round this month, with port calls by the CMA CGM Marco Polo.

The 1,300’x176’ vessel eased through the Kill van Kull channel into the Elizabeth, N.J. marine terminal Thursday morning, after preparations including a Coast Guard warning that other marine traffic should not expect clearance through the narrow channel between Staten Island, N.Y., and Bayonne, N.J.

The Marco Polo, a 16,022 TEU capacity ship commissioned in 2013, signaled the new global trend toward ULCVs and spurred U.S. ports toward deepening channels and other accommodations to prepare for their trade.

For the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, that included a $1.7 billion project to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway vertical clearance from 151 feet to 215 feet above the channel.

The remodeled passage was inaugurated in 2017 with the arrival of CMA CGM’s 1,200’x158’ Theodore Roosevelt, on its maiden voyage from Asia. Port authority planners then were already looking ahead to future 18,000-TEU ships arriving via the widened Panama Canal.

“The shipping container industry started right here in Port Newark in 1956 and since that time the Port Authority has made significant investments in infrastructure – including the raising of the Bayonne Bridge – which has allowed us to welcome ultra-large cargo ships like the Marco Polo to our ports,” said Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole in announcing the Marco Polo arrival.

On its first U.S. port call, the Marco Polo was unloading around 5,000 containers at Elizabeth, N.J., before proceeding on its route, which started in Southeast Asia and progressed west through the Suez Canal.

The next stop Saturday is Norfolk, Va., followed by Charleston, S.C., and then Savannah, Ga. – where the Marco Polo is scheduled May 26 to outdo the Kill van Kull performance when it threads the Savannah River.

The 16,022 TEU container ship CMA CGM Marco Polo, the largest vessel to call at an East Coast port, was scheduled to arrive in Savannah, Ga., May 26, 2021. Corps of Engineers Savannah District via Twitter.

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.