COSCO Shipping’s container ship Development set a record last week as the largest vessel to cross the expanded Panama Canal. This week, it set another record as the largest container ship to arrive at the Virginia International Gateway terminal in Portsmouth at the Port of Virginia—and is the largest ship ever to call on the United States’ East Coast as well.


“This is what we have been preparing for: the talk is over, the big ships are here,” Virginia Port Authority Executive Director and CEO John F. Reinhart said, the Newport News Daily Press reports.


The Neopanamax vessel is 1,200-feet-long and 158-feet-wide, which is the length of one Eiffel Tower or eight Statues of Liberty. The ship can carry the equivalent of 13,092 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), containers that are 20 feet long. The Development’s capacity is 3,000 TEUs larger than the previous largest ship to call on the Port of Virginia.


“You see that?” Gov. Terry McAuliffe asked attendees of the milestone celebration, the Newport News Daily Press reported. “You know what that is? That’s money.”


The Port of Virginia made a $670 million investment to increase overall annual throughput capacity by 40 percent, or 1 million containers, by 2020. That investment and work made it the first East Coast port to have 50-foot deep channels in 2007, and a study is under way to dredge to 55 feet to draw even more business, the Suffolk News-Herald reports.


It appears that investment is paying off as the port authority also announced it’s now part of the loop for the new Ocean Alliance’s South Atlantic Express weekly shipping service connecting Hong Kong and China to the East Coast via the expanded Panama Canal. Carrier members of the Ocean Alliance, comprised of COSCO Shipping, CMA CGM, Evergreen Line and Orient Overseas Container Line, agreed to pool ships and share space on them to take advantage of economies of scale to help customers with efficiency, says Jacky Wang, executive vice president of COSCO Shipping in North America.


Another benefit for Port of Virginia customers is that the port is the first U.S. East Coast stop on the South Atlantic Express service, meaning product gets out faster. Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., are the next stops on the route before ships head back to Asia. About 1,500 containers were loaded on and off the Development Monday before the ship was due to leave for Savannah and Charleston, Port Authority spokesman Joe Harris said.


“The message to [shippers] is: bring it on,” Virginia Port Authority Board Chairman John G. Milliken said, the Newport News Daily Press reports. “Anything you want to send, we can handle.”


Notwithstanding, ports along the U.S. East Coast have also set tonnage records this year. The Ports of Savannah, Charleston and Virginia, for example, have seen strong performance in particular, due in part to the investments they have made to accommodate larger vessels passing through the expanded Panama Canal.


As for the canal itself, larger ships are increasingly making the passage through the expanded canal, and it appears shipping traffic will only grow. Indeed, more than 1,200 Neopanamax vessels, an average of 5.9 vessels per day, have passed through the canal. Panama Canal Authority Administrator Jorge L. Quijano has said the Canal Authority projects cargo volumes through the canal to increase by 10 percent to 12 percent this year, as well as continuous growth in coming years, as the shipping industry emerges from its downturn.


What are your thoughts on larger ships visiting East Coast ports? Will it have an impact on your company’s supply chain?