Monkey see, monkey do …

Two days ago we were scratching our heads and wondering why the Port of North Carolina would commit to a $ 33 million purchase of giant container cranes … while crying poor mouth. If there’s a logical explanation for that shortsightedness, it eludes us.

Not to be outdone, the Port of Charleston has also sought the limelight. Yesterday’s Charleston Post and Courier carried a brief announcement that the State Port Authority also purchased four giant cranes from the same Chinese crane manufacturer for the same $ 33 million price tag. Delivery of these giant cranes is expected by mid-March and The Post and Courier commented on the prowess of these ‘super post-Panamax’ cranes.

“At 250 feet tall, roughly the equivalent of a 25-story building, the cranes will be among the tallest structures in the city.” Each, it is claimed, “can reach across 22 cargo containers and can accommodate the world’s largest container ships, including the Emma Maersk, the biggest of them all. Unfortunately,” the report continues, “the Emma’s draft is too deep for Charleston’s shipping channel, so the cranes won’t be able to completely flex their muscle”.

Two days ago we were scratching our heads about the shortsightedness of officials at the Port of North Carolina. We couldn’t help thinking about the fellow who purchased a Cadillac even though his children were wearing threadbare clothing. Today we’re scratching our heads again. The purchase made by the Charleston port officials is akin to the purchase of a semi-trailer rig in order to handle one’s neighborhood paper route.

We quoted some knowledgeable people in our past commentaries. It’s time for a review.

“Many ports are now focused on megaships, but you can’t handle all of the growing traffic in big TEU vessels. Much of the movement toward larger ships and the ports’ competition for that traffic involves ego and the corporate fanning of feathers.” — Commander Jon S. Helmick

“Operational and commercial limitations … reduce the effectiveness of megaships … Carriers will have a more difficult time filling these large vessels, thereby cancelling out the economies of scale these ships are supposed to produce … A limited number of ports are able to service these larger vessels because of harbor depths … These vessels are unable to accommodate importers and exporters who prefer more direct, less costly service. The bigger the ship, the more transshipment and feedering you need, and that costs money.” — Neil Davidson

Even though these admonitions were issued by highly respected maritime authorities, they’re still being ignored by those very officials whose primary concerns are “ego and the corporate fanning of feathers”. Port authorities have yet to see the light and continue to spend tax dollars in order to accommodate these foreign-built giants, while the owners of these vessels, normally in competition with one another, are forming alliances, openly admitting that there’s not enough business for each of their giants to go solo … and subtly admitting that bigger isn’t better after all.