If you think bringing in a big container ship — especially one the size of the 1,200-foot-long COSCO Development, which sailed into port Thursday morning — is just a matter of coming in, docking, moving containers off and on and then sailing out, you’d be right, in a sense.
But, as is often the case, the devil is in the details.
It’s the careful attention to those hundreds of details by stevedores, line handlers, river pilots, docking pilots, tugs, longshoremen, crane operators and more that has helped make the Port of Savannah a terminal of choice for cargo owners.
Assigning the tasks
Days before the Development made port, Ports America, the stevedore company hired to oversee the ship and its operations while in port, begins preparations.
“We are contracted by the vessel operator to plan, coordinate and direct operations,” said Jeff Boden, general manager of Ports America’s Savannah office “We coordinate with the shipping company, the ILA and Georgia Ports to make sure everything is ready and in place.”
Once the Ports Authority gives the stevedore the times the ship will be in port and its designated berth, a cargo-working plan is developed, Boden said.
“That plan is based on the number and location of containers that need to come off the ship, as well as the containers that need to be loaded onto the ship,” he said. “That helps us determine how many cranes and longshoremen we need.”
The cranes and their operators are supplied by GPA, while the rest of the labor comes from International Longshoremen’s Association locals 1414 and 1475.
“We create the plan and the ILA executes it,” Boden said, adding that Ports America supervisors are embedded throughout the operation to make adjustments to the game plan as required.
ILA Local 1475 Clerks and Checkers, working in “gangs” of approximately eight people, handle such details as locating the boxes to be loaded, assembling on the terminal so they come up in the proper loading order, with heaviest on the bottom and lightest on top; keeping a record of time worked for both locals, and making sure that all boxes get on and off the boat, with multiple checks to ensure accuracy, according to ILA 1475 vice president Eddie Ramsey.
Lifting, moving the cargo
The corresponding gangs of ILA Local 1414 are responsible for the heavy lifting — lashing boxes and going down into the ship’s hold to secure boxes that need to come off as well as driving the jockey trucks that bring the containers to and from the field.
It’s anticipated that it will take six gangs each from 1414 and 1475, working in two back-to-back shifts, to move the estimated 5,400 containers coming off or going on.
If any of those containers are refrigerated — known in the industry as “reefers,” then one or two members of ILA Local 2046 Maintenance and Repair will come on to situate them and plug them into the electrified reefer racks on terminal or unplug them if they’re going on the ship, making sure there is no loss of cooling between operations.
For its part, the GPA will have at least two crane operators assigned to each 1475/1414 gang, but there are also field crane operators and heisters — the big forklifts — as well as the six ship-to-shore cranes that will work the ship.
Basically, it will take at least 150 people per shift, working two back-to-back shifts, to get the Development ready to go back out to sea.
Steering, docking the ship
And that doesn’t take into account those all-important people responsible for bringing the massive ship into port.
Once a ship approaches the entrance to the outer harbor, the Savannah Pilots Association sends a speedy pilot boat out to meet her and transfer a bar pilot onto the ship. That pilot, familiar with the river’s twists and turns, shoals and other eccentricities, takes over for the ship’s captain, guiding the vessel upriver to Garden City Terminal.
In this case, four pilots boarded — Master Pilot Trey Thompson, John Ebberwein, Craig Maggioni and Chris Yarbrough -with Thompson taking the helm.
“What Trey did was nothing short of spectacular,” said GPA board chairman Jimmy Allgood, who boarded the ship with the river pilots.
“He handled that ship with the cool professionalism of someone who sees boats this size every day. The ride in was incredibly smooth.”
That’s because Thompson and his fellow pilots have been preparing for this for years.
“We went out to LA/LongBeach three years ago and rode the Development’s sister ship in and we’ve been practicing on a simulator since then,” Thompson said, adding that the ship handled as expected.
“She’s a big girl, but she gave us no surprises.”
Once at the terminal, veteran docking pilot Walt Schaaf, with help from the big Moran and Crescent tractor tugs, took over to perform the delicate dance of turning the big ship and docking it in the assigned berth — or berths, in the case of the Development.
So, how do you turn a ship that’s 1,200-feet long?
“Slowly, very slowly, especially with stronger than expected offshore winds,” Schaaf said, laughing. “But she handled beautifully.”
With the Development’s starboard side at the dock, her bow pointing to sea, the hardest part of Schaaf’s job is done and the big ship is ready to be worked.
That all of this comes together so seamlessly is a real testament to Savannah’s cohesive maritime community, Boden said.
“That’s a big part of why our port has the well-deserved reputation for moving cargo quickly, efficiently and safely.”
Senior business reporter Mary Carr Mayle covers the ports for the Savannah Morning News and savannahnow. She can be reached at 912-652-0324 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following are the ships expected to call on Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City and Ocean terminals this week. Schedules are supplied by GPA and are subject to change.
TERMINAL VESSEL ETA
GCT MARGARETE SCHULTE Today
GCT CMA CGM AMBER Today
GCT MAERSK ATLANTA Today
GCT EVER LIBERAL Today
GCT PETROCHEM TRADER Today
GCT MOL MARVEL Saturday
GCT CMA CGM NABUCCO Saturday
GCT PHILADELPHIA EXPRESS Saturday
GCT HELSINKI BRIDGE Saturday
OT STAR LINDESNES Saturday
GCT MSC VANESSA Sunday
GCT MAERSK CHICAGO Sunday
GCT NORTHERN JUPITER Sunday
GCT NINGBO EXPRESS Sunday
GCT MAERSK KURE Sunday
OT SUNSHINE Sunday
GCT CMA CGM NERVAL Monday
GCT SEA-LAND METEOR Monday
GCT HAMBURG Monday
GCT MSC PAMELA Monday
GCT MSC JUDITH Monday
GCT MAERSK SANTANA Monday
GCT NYK DAEDALUS Monday
GCT WASHINGTON EXPRESS Monday
GCT LOYA Monday
OT SPAR APUS Monday
GCT EVER LISSOME Tuesday
GCT CMA CGM MOLIERE Tuesday
GCT MSC KLEVEN Tuesday
GCT NORTHERN MONUMENT Tuesday
GCT MAERSK SEMARANG Tuesday
GCT ZIM CHICAGO Tuesday
GCT ZIM LUANDA Tuesday
GCT BARBARA Tuesday
OT BESS Tuesday
GCT PACON Wednesday
GCT JULIETTE RICKMERS Wednesday
GCT MAERSK WINNIPEG Wednesday
GCT NILEDUTCH OSPREY Wednesday
GCT YM UNIFORMITY Wednesday
GCT MALLECO Thursday
GCT NYK REMUS Thursday
GCT MSC CHARLESTON Thursday
GCT MSC JULIA R. Thursday
GCT BILBAO BRIDGE Thursday