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Port of Virginia Welcomes Additional Larger Ships

Posted on March 8, 2024

The East Coast port widened its shipping channel, which is set to reduce port stays for container vessels by up to 15%.

The Port of Virginia is preparing to improve cargo thanks to a $1.4 billion infrastructure investment that includes a widened shipping channel.

The widening of the channel, which is now open, allows a two-way passage for ultra-large container vessels, according to a Friday press release. The channel will allow more vessels to berth and improve efficiency for cargo movement through the gateway by reducing port stay for container vessels by up to 15%.

“Ocean carriers are putting larger vessels into their East Coast port rotations with additional [ultra-large container vessels] on order, and our partners know their vessels will not outgrow our capabilities,” Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, said in the release.

The billion-dollar-plus Gateway Investment Program, which led to the widening, also includes the dredging of the channel and six other port-related freight projects underway.

“In Virginia, there is no concern for channel width, overhead draft restrictions, capacity or cargo handling infrastructure,” Edwards said.

While ultra-large container vessels have been arriving at the West Coast ports for years, the ships’ inability to traverse the Panama Canal meant they could not reach the East Coast but when the Panama canal expanded in 2016, East Coast ports raced to invest in their own widening so they could eventually reap the benefits of greater volumes.

Ultra-large container vessels vary in size — one example being the MSC Irina, which has a maximum capacity of 24,346 twenty-foot equivalent units, according to vessel tracking website Vessel Finder.

In 2023, the Port of Virginia processed 3.3 million total TEUs, an increase from its 2019 volumes, which were 2.9 million total TEUs. The increase resulted from shippers shifting cargo to the East Coast to mitigate risk from labor negotiations at West Coast ports and growing consumer demand in the region.


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