Massive cargo ship draws crowds as it arrives in Savannah

SAVANNAH —- Frank Haynes comes to River Street along this historic city’s waterfront every chance he can get to watch the hulking cargo ships slowly float in and out of the harbor.

“Near everyday if I’m not at work,” said Haynes. Thursday’s showing didn’t disappoint as the Cosco Development, the biggest container ship to ever dock at an East Coast port arrived in Savannah, guided by pilot boats under the Talmadge Memorial Bridge.

Just barely under the bridge by what looked like only several feet. The bridge clears the water by about 185 feet or 17 stories, give or take.

LINK: Huge ship a preview of bigger ships to come

The mammoth freighter, longer than an Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, arrived during high-tide, the only time a ship that big can enter Savannah’s relatively shallow channel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the process of deepening the channel to allow for ever-larger cargo ships. The cost of that project, however, recently spiked and will take two years longer than expected to finish, with completion now expected in early 2022.

The Development can hold more than 13,000 TEUs, or twenty-foot equivalent container units. There are bigger ships, but this set a new record for Savannah and the East Coast when it made its first call in Virginia earlier this week.

It was greeted in Savannah with a water cannon salute.

Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said the port expects to move about 5,500 containers, on and off the ship, about a 1,000 containers more than they previously estimated. That would be a record for the port.

Lynch said the port’s lead union officials were eager to get started when the ship was ready to begin unloading about 1.p.m.

“They were chomping at the bit,” he said. “They couldn’t wait to start. They want to break a record.”

Haynes, 46, was tracking the ship’s approach on his smart phone Thursday. It appeared on the horizon on River Street above the trees about 9:35 a.m.

“They’re going to bring a lot of work,” Haynes said of the larger ships expected to ply the waters of the Savannah River in the years ahead. Haynes, who said he works in commercial construction, hopes to one day work at the port.

That’s the ports authority’s hope as well. Jimmy Allgood, the ports chairman, boarded a pilot vessel at 5:30 a.m. and made his way aboard the Development via a rope ladder. He said he was then whisked up an elevator to the bridge with a river pilot crew and Cosco officials for the ride to port. 

Ports officials were asked by shipping customers three years ago to use computer models to determine if ships the size of the Development could make it through the narrow and curvy Savannah River channel. The river pilots and ports authority determined about 18 months ago that the approach could be done, Lynch said. 

Allgood said the ride in was smooth with Savannah River Master Pilot Trey Thompson at the controls. 

“Honestly Trey Thompson, the master pilot, he said it was absolutely one of the easiest jobs he’s ever had,” Allgood said. “The ship performed better than he ever expected.’

Vicki Summerfield, vacationing from North Dakota with relatives from Germany, learned of the Development’s arrival from their hotel’s concierge. She said she and her family have enjoyed watching the steady flow of freighters from the Savannah’s scenic waterfront.

“We’re from North Dakota, and we don’t have anything like this,” she said.

Her relative, Jerry Gowdy, who ventured to Savannah from Germany, said he and his wife routinely watch even larger cargo ships at the port in Hamburg. He said he wanted to see “a historic event.”

Kenneth Stanford, who said he was a Savannah River pilot for 42 years, watched the Development ease her way through the channel and under the bridge with the help of several pilot boats. He brought his grandson, Anderson, 3, and sister Kay Stanford with him to watch.

The Development is 1,201 feet long, more than 200 feet longer than the largest craft Stanford said he ever guided down the river.

“This is not a very wide river,” he said. 

Asked if he was nervous watching the pilots guide massive freighter, Stanford shook his head.

“They know what they’re doing,” he said.

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AJC Business reporter J. Scott Trubey keeps you updated on the latest news about economic development and commercial real estate in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on, including these stories:

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