NY Harbor welcomes a ship larger than the Empire State Building, the biggest ever to dock at Port Authority seaport

The ship, named the CMA CGM Marco Polo, spans 1,300 feet, longer than five Manhattan blocks and larger than the Empire State Building is tall. It can carry up to 8,000 40-foot containers, most of which are filled with household goods that fill shelves at stores and warehouses owned by corporations like Amazon, WalMart or Loews.


By CLAYTON GUSE | New York Daily News | Published: May 21, 2021

NEW YORK (Tribune News Service) — The largest container ship to ever sail into New York Harbor arrived Thursday, the crowning achievement of a years-long rebuilding effort to bring the Port Authority’s seaports up to modern standards.

The 1,300-foot CMA CGM Marco Polo is longer than than the Empire State Building is tall, and stretches over five north-south Manhattan blocks. It can carry up to 8,000 40-foot containers.

Its cargo on Thursday included containers of household goods bound for shelves at stores and warehouses owned by corporations like Amazon, Wal-Mart and Lowes.

It docked at Elizabeth-Port Authority Marine Terminal in the morning after passing beneath the Verrazzano Bridge, past the Statue of Liberty and beneath the Bayonne Bridge.

“It was a fantastic, beautiful day to see New York,” said Vinko Separovic, the ship’s Croatian captain, who leads a team that collectively speaks more than six languages. “What a photo session it was when we passed the Statue of Liberty. The cameras were like bees around the Marco Polo.”

The Marco Polo was the world’s largest ship when it was built in 2013, but a boom in global shipping has led to larger and larger vessels being manufactured each year. Now, it doesn’t even crack the top 15.

Seven ships are tied for the spot as the largest ship in the world, and all of them are about 50% larger than the Marco Polo. None can fit into New York and New Jersey’s seaports.

The Marco Polo would not have fit into the docks at Port Elizabeth five years ago. The Port Authority raised the height of the Bayonne Bridge’s roadway in 2017, which officials said became necessary after some large ships’ antennas were hitting the lower span as they passed through.

Also helping was a deepening of the harbor’s channels between the Verrazzano Bridge and Elizabeth in 2016.

The approach to and berth at Elizabeth can now fit ships about 20% larger than the Marco Polo, officials said.

“These infrastructure improvements also have helped generate record cargo volumes and enabled our supply lines to remain extraordinarily robust during the pandemic,” said Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton.

Before arriving in New York, the Marco Polo departed Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 30, traveled through the Suez Canal on May 7 and arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on May 17.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, global shipping is booming. The amount of cargo that entered the Port Authority’s seaports in March was 35% greater than the same month in 2019, agency officials said.

Cargo volumes took a hit in the pandemic’s early months as ship crews, truckers and port staff around the world quarantined. But since July 2020 shipping has roared back, with volumes increasing at historic rates, Port Authority officials said.

The Marco Polo’s crew of 25 wasn’t allowed to leave the ship in Elizabeth, and several crew members said they’ve been aboard the ship for at least six months straight without stepping onto dry land.

Before Thursday, they hadn’t docked in the U.S. when there was enough COVID-19 vaccine supply to spare for them. Finally, at Port Elizabeth, they were delivered a round of one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Several thousand containers are scheduled to be removed from and loaded onto the Marco Polo before it departs for Norfolk. Va. early Saturday, crew members said — a Herculean effort made possible by seven towering cranes stationed next to the ship.

But even with the speedy turnaround, Port Authority officials warned the seaports face several logistical hiccups. A shortage of truck drivers and nearby warehouse space have caused chokepoints in shipping companies’ effort to remove seemingly endless stacks of cargo from the terminals at Elizabeth.

Port Authority officials are working with private companies to address those issues, but Cotton said the growth of the seaports is a sign the region’s economy and infrastructure is prepared to thrive during and beyond the pandemic.

“The ship’s arrival underscores the Port Authority’s ability to serve the ultra-large cargo container ships that increasingly carry the food, supplies and goods needed to sustain millions of residents, support thousands of jobs and keep businesses open,” Cotton said.

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The container ship Marco Polo, with the length of the Empire State building, pulls into New York Harbor early Thursday.