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L.A. ports struggle with a revolution in shipping

Facing severe financial troubles, the world’s ocean shipping lines have raced to build ever-larger container ships in an effort to cut costs and remain competitive. The arrival of megaships has overwhelmed existing infrastructure at seaports across the world, including Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Read more: Megaship docks in L.A. as change roils shipping industry | Local ports losing to rivals amid struggle with giant ships

Economies of scale

Since cargo ships were adapted in 1955 to carry containers — measured in standard 20-foot units known as TEUs — the size and carrying capacity of container ships has grown rapidly.

(Detailed)

1957

2015

2018

750 TEU

5,400 tons

 

19,000 TEU

200,000

 

460 ft. long

 

1,310

 

(Detailed)

2018

1957

2015

750 TEU

5,400 tons

 

19,000 TEU

200,000

 

24,000 TEU

255,000*

 

1,310

 

460 ft. long

 

1,410

 

(Detailed)

1957

1988

1995

2005

2015

2018

750 TEU

5,400 tons

 

3,500 TEU

54,000

 

6,000 TEU

84,000

 

9,900 TEU

105,000

 

19,000 TEU

200,000

 

24,000 TEU

255,000*

 

905

 

1,310

 

460 ft. long

 

1,045

 

1,090

 

1,410

 

(Detailed)

1988

2005

1957

1995

2015

2018

750 TEU

5,400 tons

 

9,900 TEU

105,000

 

3,500 TEU

54,000

 

6,000 TEU

84,000

 

19,000 TEU

200,000

 

24,000 TEU

255,000*

 

460 ft. long

 

905

 

1,045

 

1,090

 

1,310

 

1,410

 

(Detailed)

1988

2005

1957

1995

2015

2018

750 TEU

5,400 tons

 

3,500 TEU

54,000

 

6,000 TEU

84,000

 

9,900 TEU

105,000

 

19,000 TEU

200,000

 

24,000 TEU

255,000*

 

460 ft. long

 

905

 

1,045

 

1,090

 

1,310

 

1,410

 


Bigger ships, deeper channels

Packing thousands of containers into a single hull has created vessels that sit deeper in the water, more than 50 feet below the surface. Port authorities have embarked on extensive dredging of older channels and berths to accommodate the new ships.

Standard container

(40 x 8 feet)

1 TEU

(20 x 8 feet)

305 FT

 

Cargo

holds

 

STATUE OF LIBERTY

TO SCALE

Gantry cranes load/offload

containers from the ship

 

Standard container

(40 x 8 feet)

1 TEU

(20 x 8 feet)

Docking berth

Containers

 

Cargo

holds

 

305 FT

 

A large container ship sits more

than 50 feet below the waterline.

 

Gantry cranes load/offload

containers from the ship

 

Standard container

(40 x 8 feet)

1 TEU

(20 x 8 feet)

Docking berth

Containers

 

Cargo

holds

 

305 FT

 

STATUE OF LIBERTY

TO SCALE

52 FT

 

A large container ship sits more

than 50 feet below the waterline.

 

Standard container

(40 x 8 feet)

1 TEU

(20 x 8 feet)

Gantry cranes load/offload

containers from the ship

 

Docking berth

Containers

 

Cargo

holds

 

305 FT

 

52 FT

 

STATUE OF LIBERTY

TO SCALE

A large container ship sits more than 50 feet below

the waterline, requiring deeper channels.

 

Standard container

(40 x 8 feet)

1 TEU

(20 x 8 feet)

Gantry cranes load/offload

containers from the ship

 

Docking berth

Carbon

footprint

(per ton

shipped

100 miles)

305 FT

 

Air freight

198.6 pounds

52 FT

 

STATUE OF LIBERTY

TO SCALE

Truck 16.7

A large container ship sits more than 50 feet below

the waterline, requiring deeper channels.

 

Giant container

ship 1.1

Rail

6.4

Source: Maersk Lines


Major expansions underway

To accommodate larger ships and remain competitive with Gulf and East coast ports, authorities at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have embarked on multibillion- dollar capital improvement plans, including expanded terminals and deeper channels. Long Beach’s Middle Harbor terminal, when complete, will be the nation’s fourth-largest port complex.

Completed

Planned

Long

Beach

Dredged

ship berth

Long

Beach

Harbor

L.A.

LANDFILLS

Main channel

deepened from

45 to 53 ft.

SUBMERGED

FILLS

1 MILE

Pacific Ocean

Completed

Planned

710

Dredged

ship berth

Long

Beach

110

47

Terminal

Island

Long

Beach

Harbor

L.A.

LANDFILLS

1 MILE

L.A.

Harbor

Main channel

deepened from

45 to 53 feet

SUBMERGED

FILLS

Pacific Ocean

Completed

Planned

Dredged

ship berth

Long

Beach

710

DREDGED

BERTHS

110

DREDGED

CHANNELS

47

LANDFILLS

Long Beach

Middle Harbor

DREDGED

BERTH

SUBMERGED

FILL

Terminal

Island

L.A.

Long Beach

Outer Harbor

LANDFILL

LANDFILL

LANDFILL

1 MILE

Main channel

deepened from

45 to 53 feet

SUBMERGED

FILLS

Pacific Ocean

Completed

Planned

Dredged

ship berth

710

DREDGED

BERTHS

Cerritos

Channel

A

B

110

C

DREDGED

CHANNELS

47

LANDFILLS

Long

Beach

Long Beach

Middle Harbor

SUBMERGED

FILL

DREDGED

BERTH

Terminal

Island

L.A.

Long Beach

Outer Harbor

LANDFILL

LANDFILL

LANDFILL

1 MILE

L.A.

Harbor

Main channel

deepened from

45 to 53 feet

SUBMERGED

FILLS

Pacific Ocean

$510-million project

to automate the

TraPac terminal

$1.3-billion project

to replace the Gerald

Desmond Bridge

$1.3-billion Middle

Harbor expansion

project

A.

B.

C.

Completed

Planned

Dredged

ship berth

710

Cerritos

Channel

A

B

110

DREDGED

BERTHS

C

47

DREDGED

CHANNELS

LANDFILLS

Long Beach

Middle Harbor

Long

Beach

SUBMERGED

FILL

DREDGED

BERTH

Terminal

Island

L.A.

Long Beach

Outer Harbor

LANDFILL

LANDFILL

BREAKWATER

LANDFILL

Pacific Ocean

L.A.

Harbor

Main channel

deepened from

45 to 53 feet

1 MILE

SUBMERGED

FILLS

Pacific Ocean

$510-million project

to automate the

TraPac terminal

$1.3-billion project

to replace the Gerald

Desmond Bridge

$1.3-billion Middle

Harbor expansion

project

A.

B.

C.

Sources: The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach


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