Huge container ship cruises into Port of Oakland


The South Korean-built MSC Fabiola is one and a half times longer than the Transamerica Pyramid is tall. She can hold 12,500 20-foot containers and if you unloaded them all and put them end to end they would stretch from San Francisco to San Jose. She's one-third larger than the container ships we're used to seeing.

It took two bar pilots to navigate the MSC Fabiola across the bay.

"The second pilot will be bringing what's called a precision piloting unit, which is a carry aboard electronic GPS navigational system independently of the ships system," Capt. Bruce Horton said.

The bay pilots have been training for a year and a half on a simulator at the California Maritime Academy for this day. The ship could only come in if the current in the bay was slack and the wind under 17 miles per hour.

"The width of the channel is very narrow; this ship is very wide and the vessel interaction when this ship goes by other vessels it has a lot more effect than smaller ship ships do," Horton said.

The Port of Oakland prepared for the MSC Fabiola by dredging channels and an extra tug boat guided her into the dock. The ship made a stop in Long Beach to unload about one-quarter of her 12,500 containers, so she came in at 75 percent of her capacity. The port says she'll be going out the same way

"When she goes out we primarily export agricultural goods," Port of Oakland spokesperson Roberto Bernardo said.

Bernardo says dried fruit, nuts, wine and frozen meat will make up a large portion of the outbound exports.

The port figures every 1,000 containers equates to eight jobs in the Bay Area region.

"Related to trucking to longshormen to the retail that this effects to local businesses," Bernardo said.

If more containers means more jobs, it's encouraging to hear the president of the bar pilots say bigger container ships are the future.

"Most definitely, a lot of the recent orders are for vessels of this size they found out that this size vessel actually is 30 percent cheaper to run as far as fuel costs and they can put about 30 percent more cargo on these vessels," Horton said.

The president of the bar pilots association says the most difficult maneuver with the MSC Fabiola will come Thursday when they turn her around. The turning basin is 1,500 feet across, giving the ship just 150 feet of wiggle room at either end.

If all goes well, expect to see more of these ultra big container ships coming into the bay.

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