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Largest ship yet calls on Port of Savannah

The largest ship to ever call on the U.S. East Coast arrives in Savannah.
The largest ship to ever call on the U.S. East Coast arrives in Savannah.(WTOC)
Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 4:24 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The largest ship to ever call on the U.S. East Coast arrived in Savannah Wednesday morning.

The CMA CGM Marco Polo passed River Street around 8:30 a.m., drawing crowds to the river to watch its arrival.

The ship is 1,300 feet and more than 175 feet wide, which is more than four football fields. It’s carrying 3,300 containers on board.

This ship is just slightly bigger than the CMA CGM Brazil that called on Savannah last fall.

To prepare for Marco Polo’s arrival, the Georgia Ports have spent years of planning, using models and simulations to get the tug boats and pilots ready.

“Georgia and Savannah continue to be and will be on the map as a global gateway. The cargo that is coming to us on this vessel is coming from southeast Asia through the Suez Canal, and it will also be taking cargo back,” said Griff Lynch, GPA Executive Director.

Business has been booming on the waters of Savannah. Georgia Ports Authority numbers continue to grow throughout the pandemic, welcoming larger ships each month to our port.

With more containers coming through, GPA needs to keep up with demand, which means there are plenty of jobs to fill.

GPA just released their numbers for April and it was their second busiest month on record, with an increase of 38 percent container trade compared to last year.

At this point, May looks to be just as strong.

To keep up, the ports have a lot of people working overtime and are trying to hire and train new employees as quickly as they can.

“I think if you look across the scope of the maritime community, certainly workforce development is at the forefront and it is one of those things we have to tackle. So, we are working very closely with the economic development authorities and the state to not only study it but look at remedies for the opportunity to bring more people here and create the proper training for those folks,” Lynch said.

They just held a job fair that had over 1,000 people show up. They have recently hired about 200 new employees.

And even larger ships than the Marco Polo will call on the Port of Savannah after the dredging project is complete. They are ahead of schedule and are 87 percent complete with the project that will make the river near the ports 47 feet deep.

“We need these ships to have a sustainable economy. This is how the goods come to us that end up on our shelves, we’re all using them and also we in North America deliver to the world. So, having a larger ship allows us to move and receive more cargo it’s that simple and if we can’t work these ships we are immediately going to be put to the side and another port will take our place so that’s why this is so critical,” said Lynch.

The massive ship is almost as long at the Empire State Building.

“We don’t look at the ship 16,000 TEU’s we look at it as who are the customers inside these containers alright and there are over 10,000 customers on this ship alright that we’re focused on alright and my job as the leader here in North America is to find solutions. Find solutions for these customers to move the cargo through the supply chain and into their facilities and then ultimately to the consumer,” said Ed Aldridge, President of CMA CGM America and APL North America.

Aldridge says the Port of Savannah is key for that. Georgia Port leaders say they have been preparing for this moment for years investing hundreds of millions of dollars so they can bring in ships like the CMA CGM Marco Polo. For Savannah’s mayor, it was a positive sign of what’s to come.

“People are getting the word they are getting the message that savannah is a very viable logistical standpoint. That our port is booming and growing that we can officially move people and things in and out of our port and so for us it means that our economy is alive and well,” said Mayor Van Johnson.

While it was a sight to behold, officials say it could be a common one in the future.

“You’ll see the Marco Polo for the foreseeable future many times and there will be similar vessels that are Marco Polo’s size coming through on an ongoing basis,” said Aldridge.

Ships like the Marco Polo will now go into a regular rotation to call on the port. The next time it comes into port, it could have 1,000 more containers on it.

It will take a while to unload the large ship and they probably won’t finish until about Thursday.

According to the Georgia Ports Authority, you can share your photos of the Marco Polo using hashtags: #CCMarcoPoloSavannah, #CMACGMRecord, and #CMACGMMarcoPolo to be entered in a contest to board the ship the next time she calls on the Port of Savannah. Please click here for more info.

We are excited to welcome the largest vessel to call the U.S. East Coast, CMA CGM GROUP (Official) Marco Polo, to the...

Posted by Georgia Ports Authority on Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson was on board the ship Wednesday morning to mark the historic moment as it made its way up the Savannah River.

WTOC live streamed the ship’s arrival on our Facebook page. Rewatch it below:

Marco Polo makes it way to Savannah

The Marco Polo makes its way up the Savannah River. 🛳

Posted by WTOC-TV on Wednesday, May 26, 2021

You can track the ship’s position and where it heads next in real-time by clicking here.

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