Four new, massive Neo-Panamax container cranes arrived on Sept. 9 at the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal. The cranes were delivered aboard the Zhen Hua 24 from China, greeted by officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and its public-private partner, Ports America Chesapeake.

“The Port’s container business has grown impressively in recent years and is poised to grow even more with the addition of these new ultra-large cranes,” said Governor Larry Hogan.

“Thanks to our MDOT MPA team and our partners at Port America Chesapeake, the Port of Baltimore is well-positioned to continue as one of Maryland’s prime economic engines.”

“Baltimore is already one of the few ports on the East Coast capable of accommodating the world’s largest container ships,” MDOT Secretary Greg Slater said. “These new cranes will allow the Port to serve two ultra-large container ships simultaneously, boosting our capacity and giving us the opportunity to increase revenue and grow the jobs that help fuel Maryland’s economy.”

Each fully electric crane measures 450 feet tall and weighs about 1,740 tons – 25 feet taller and 190 tons heavier than the Port’s first set of Neo-Panamax cranes that arrived in 2012. The new cranes can each extend to reach 23 containers across on a ship and lift 187,500 pounds of cargo. Ports America Chesapeake will test and prepare the cranes over the next few months, and they are expected to be fully operational in early 2022.

The cranes are part of a significant expansion by Ports America Chesapeake at Seagirt to provide greater capacity and efficiency to handle anticipated increases in container volumes. The $166 million investment in terminal and yard upgrades includes a second, 50-foot-deep berth to accommodate mega-ships; new container handling equipment such as 15 hybrid-electric gantry cranes; and a new truck gate complex. Ports America Chesapeake also is making software and technology upgrades at Seagirt, and in February relocated a container repair depot off-dock to provide more fluid container delivery and pick-up.

There is a need for utilization of more gateways such as Baltimore to handle cargo in the United States. Import/export demand for container cargo has substantially increased over the past year and with that, port congestion is an all-time high. Due to the high number of local distribution, fulfillment and sorting centers in the area, Baltimore is a prime gateway for goods heading to the e-commerce market and for cargo sent to the Midwest via rail. The Port of Baltimore has served 23 “ad hoc” ships over the past year – vessels diverted to Baltimore that were not on a regularly scheduled service call – totaling more than 35,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers.

Containers coming through the Port of Baltimore have increased significantly since MDOT MPA and Ports America Chesapeake entered into a public-private partnership agreement in 2010. In 2009, the year prior to the agreement, Seagirt handled 257,367 containers. In 2020, after the first 10 years of the agreement, Seagirt handled 628,132 containers, an increase of 144 percent.