Port of Savannah Welcomes First Ship Through Expanded Panama Canal

The MOL vessel Benefactor is loaded with containers on July 13 at the Port of Savannah. Photo: Georgia Ports Authority/Stephen B. Morton
The MOL vessel Benefactor is loaded with containers on July 13 at the Port of Savannah. Photo: Georgia Ports Authority/Stephen B. Morton

The Port of Savannah on Wednesday welcomed the first vessel to call at the port through new locks of the expanded Panama Canal.

At a capacity of 10,100 twenty-foot equivalent container units, MOL Benefactor is also the largest ship ever to call the Port of Savannah.

The container ship was scheduled to move over 3,000 containers at the Georgia Port Authority’s Garden City terminal.

MOL Benefactor is part of the G6 Alliance’s new NYX service proving direct service from far east Asia to the U.S. East Coast and exclusively deploying vessels in the 10,000 range previously too big to sail through the Panama Canal. Other U.S. calls include the ports of New York/New Jersey and Norfolk, Virginia.

“The arrival of the MOL Benefactor today ushers in a new era of larger vessels and services that will increase capacity, volumes and economic opportunities for Georgia and this region,” said Griff Lynch, GPA’s Executive Director. “GPA is well-positioned to handle the larger vessels and greater volumes due to the scale and scope of our operations.”

In preparation for the Panama Canal expansion, the GPA has eight new neo-panamax cranes on order, making for a total of 30 ship-to-shore cranes by 2018. GPA has also added 30 rubber-tired gantry cranes for a current fleet of 146 machines – the most of any single container terminal in the U.S.

There is also the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) will deepen the inner harbor to 47 feet and the outer harbor to 49 feet at mean low water. The outer portion of the harbor is now 15 percent complete.

“Over the next six months to a year, we expect a higher ratio of 8,000- to 10,000- TEU container ships among our vessels calls. Within two years, we expect market shifts to send 12,000-TEU vessels to the U.S. East Coast,” Lynch added.

MOL Benefactor became the first neopanamax containership to pass through the new locks of the expanded Panama Canal on July 1, 2016.