​Four new cranes to help PortMiami ready for Panama Canal expansion

By: | at 12:00 AM | Channel(s): Ports & Terminals  

While their combined $37.8 million cost doesn’t make PortMiami’s four soon-to-arrive super-post-Panamax cranes the South Florida port’s most pricey current infrastructure investment, the huge ship-to-shore gantries are a critical element as the containerport continues its “Countdown to the Panama Canal 2015.”

The newest cranes, set to arrive in early October to join two similar super-post-Panamax gantries plus seven post-Panamax quay cranes, will be the biggest and fastest in Florida, according to port officials.

When combined with a 50-foot-deep channel, a direct tunnel link to the Interstate highway network and reintroduction of on-port rail capability – all projects slated to be ready by 2015 completion of the Panama Canal expansion – the newest cranes should help uniquely position PortMiami to realize quantum growth in containerized cargo activity.

Juan M. Kuryla, PortMiami’s director designee, said the crane-carrying vessel bringing the new units from China encountered a stretch of rough weather coming around the southern tip of Africa, delaying its anticipated Miami arrival from September until early October – but that’s still many months, if not a couple of years, ahead of when the $5.3 billion program to expand Panama Canal locks will be completed.

And, while the combined $37.8 million price tag for the four cranes may seem lofty, it is reasonable by industry standards.

“I think we negotiated a very, very good deal for the port, considering what had been sold around that time and the capacity of the cranes,” Kuryla told theAmerican Journal of Transportationin a Sept. 11 interview. “I think these are going to be the largest cranes in the state of Florida, for sure, and perhaps in the South Atlantic.”

Juan M. Kuryla – PortMiami’s Director Designee
Juan M. Kuryla – PortMiami’s Director Designee

The specs are impressive:• Capacity to reach 23 containers across;

• Ability to work nine containers above deck and 11 containers under deck;

• 65-ton lifting capacity, 100 tons under hook; and

• All-electric operation, consistent with the port’s sustainability commitment.

The cranes were built in Shanghai by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries Co. Ltd., or Zhenhua Port Machinery Co., often referred to in short as ZPMC, the same company from which Miami’s seaport received its first extra-large cranes two decades ago.

“These are the big boys,” Kuryla said, noting that the total ship-to-shore gantry contingent at PortMiami will grow to 13, a number he doesn’t find unlucky in the least.

“I think 13 is a great number,” he said. “It’s better than 12, which is better than 11. And, eventually, long-term, we’re looking at adding more of these types of cranes as we see the business growing.”

Kuryla is confident that the cranes and other big projects at PortMiami add up to a recipe for successful business growth, not just in Miami’s traditional strength along north-south routes in the Americas but, moreover, on east-west itineraries.

“When you look at major ports in the world, what do they have in common?” he asked rhetorically, responding, “They have deep water, and we’ll have that with the 50 feet. They have great access, and we’ll have that with the tunnel. They have on-dock rail capabilities, and we’ll have that with the FEC [Florida East Coast Railway] on-dock rail project. And they also have the ability to load and unload vessels efficiently and timely, and these cranes will provide that.”

Kuryla noted that there are containerships currently calling Miami that can only be worked most efficiently with the use of multiple super-post-Panamax-type cranes.

An example would be the vessels in Maersk Line’s Transpacific 7, or TP7, service, which transits the Suez Canal from China with vessels ranging in capacity from 5,700 twenty-foot-equivalent units to 8,700 TEUs.

Since Miami was added to the TP7 rotation in late May, such ships have been being worked at PortMiami with the two existing super-post-Panamax cranes plus an additional regular post-Panamax unit, but the present operation is not at the full efficiency level expected after the newest cranes are in place.

“Once these cranes are here, and once the dredge [deeper channel] is here, the limiting factors as they relate to draft and crane availability will no longer be in existence, and that’s the advantage that Miami will have over the rest of the ports on the East Coast all the way up to Virginia, which does have 50 feet already,” Kuryla said.

The PortMiami Tunnel project, with its construction cost of $607 million, is on budget and is on schedule for opening in May 2014, Kuryla said. The project is crucial because Miami-Dade County’s port is on an island, and trucks going in and out of it historically have had to transit via a bridge and deal with congested downtown Miami streets that separate the port from Interstate highways.

Meanwhile, the PortMiami Deep Dredge project is moving forward as well, at a cost of between $180 million and $220 million. Winning-bid contractor Great Lakes Dock & Dredge Co. is slated to have its first dredging unit on the water in October or November, according to Kuryla, with completion by summer or fall of 2015, again in advance of completion of the Panama Canal expansion.

“To me, the dredge is not only a Panama Canal issue, it’s a Suez issue, it’s a North Europe issue,” Kuryla said, noting that vessels drafting as many as 50 feet are expected to be coming across the Atlantic Ocean in increasing numbers from such European container hubs as Rotterdam, Netherlands; Antwerp, Belgium; and the German port cities of Hamburg and Bremerhaven.

“So we’ll be ready with the 50 feet and the big cranes, the direct shot to the highway system via the tunnel and the capability to put those boxes on on-dock rail and take them up to the hinterland,” Kuryla said.

The first phase of the on-dock rail facility is slated to open by late October, with the final phase to be ready by fall 2014. Partners include the FEC, Florida Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation. A federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant awarded in December 2010 is covering $22.7 million of the rail project’s $49 million cost. Kuryla pointed out that, at the time of its announcement, the TIGER grant was the largest such award ever to a port.

All this progress is being celebrated with such festive formalities as the “Countdown to the Panama Canal 2015” campaign, which kicked off in July with a forum at PortMiami at which U.S. and Panamanian officials exchanged flags before a gathering of more than 150 business and government leaders. Also, in an effort to bolster trade, PortMiami representatives recently met with counterparts from Peru, a West Coast South American nation that lies due south of Miami, beyond the other side of the Panama Canal.

“We’re excited,” Kuryla said. “We’re excited with the [Panama] Canal and these projects, which we think are going to benefit our region and specifically PortMiami, and we are going to be well-positioned to receive the larger vessels that will be transiting the canal.”

Helping to finance these projects is the early September issuance of more than $380 million in bond debt. Some of the derived coin, according to Kuryla, is to be used to refund existing debt, while much is going toward the present projects, including covering the required advancement of money for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bid out the channel work. Some is also going toward additional port improvements, from bulkhead strengthening to cruise terminal enhancements.

“We need this money – we’re floating this debt – to expand,” Kuryla said. “We like to say that these are for revenue projects, projects that eventually will yield additional revenues to the port as a result of our enhanced capabilities to attract new vessels, both cargo and cruise.”

Kuryla pointed out that this is the first time PortMiami, which operates as a department of Miami-Dade County, has gone without seaport revenue bonds since 1996.

“What does that mean?” Kuryla said. “It means that the port is in a financial position that is strong enough to pass the different tests you need to pass in order to put out your own revenue bonds, as the borrowings that we have had since 1996 were county general obligation bonds, not seaport revenue bonds. We’re very proud of that.”

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American Journal of Transportation

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For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists. Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including [em]The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.[/em] A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.