When the container ship Hugo pulled into Long Beach, Calif., last month after a trans-Pacific crossing, its docking was about as easy as parallel parking a Greyhound bus in a phone booth.
Bigger than the Titanic and nearly as long as the Queen Mary 2, the 1,095-foot-long Hugo required two harbor pilots and three tugboats to guide it through a narrow shipping channel to the dock. Crew members had to fold down a radar mast to clear the 157-foot-high Gerald Desmond Bridge — and made it with only five feet to spare. Then the ship made a 90-degree turn, its stern narrowly avoiding a concrete structure known as the “can opener.”
Big as it is, the Hugo is just one in a new generation of container ships so massive that they dwarf ships made just a decade ago. Often longer than three football fields and wider than the Panama Canal, the $100 million ships are jammed with Asian-made merchandise that will fill shopping lists and stores throughout the U.S. before the holiday rush. Like Santa’s supersize sleigh, the Hugo was loaded with toys, electronic goods and clothes. The ship’s maximum load of 8,200 20-foot-long cargo containers could fill a train stretching more than 23 miles.