Travel on cargo ship Long Beach cargo

Long Beach Container ship

LONG BEACH - More than two-tenths of a mile long and more than half a football field wide, the Mediterranean Shipping Co.'s vessel, the Altair, made its way from China's Port of Yantian into Long Beach before the sun rose Thursday.

It's the second time a container ship as large as the Altair had ever called to North America. The first one, the MSC Fabiola - about the same size as the Altair - was lauded when it first came to Long Beach in March.

And while Altair did not get the same fanfare as Fabiola, the arrival of the second ship confirms what industry leaders have already known.

"You look at all the order books coming out with all the different carriers and everybody is ordering these mega container vessels, " said Tom Hughes, an executive at MSC. "It's a natural progression in the industry. That's where it's going."

The 1, 200-foot long Altair - stacked high with thousands of multi-colored metal containers - required six gantry cranes to unload it Thursday.

Capable of carrying more than 12, 000 containers, the Altair dwarfed the smaller industry-standard ships, which at most can carry about 8, 000 containers and typically need three or four cranes for unloading.

The growing trend of ships carrying as many as 11, 000 to 13, 000 containers bodes well for the Port of Long Beach, one of the few ports that can accommodate these mega ships.

"It's a very significant change that's happened with these ship sizes, " said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Christopher Lytle, adding that his port will start seeing more mega ships call to Long Beach on a regular basis in the coming months as the busier season approaches.

"It's not just that they're bigger ships; the fact of the matter is these vessels are much more efficient on a per-container basis, " Lytle said.

The benefits, Lytle said, include fuel efficiency, and they are cleaner burning and have less harmful pollutants or air emissions.

"And what's very appealing to the owners of these shipping lines is the fact that they realize it's literally hundreds of dollars per container saved compared to using a smaller ship, " Lytle said.

The mega ship trend also means job growth and a more robust regional economy, said Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, associate economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

"An efficient transportation system helps to draw investment into the region and promote economic growth, " she said. "The flow of goods from the local ports, through the warehouses of the Inland Empire and into the wider national distribution system sustains an entire network of local industries."

These industries include not only port activities and logistics and warehousing, but also financial services, professional business services, manufacturing and wholesaling activities, Ritter said.

Trade-related infrastructure developments and existing facility improvements generate immediate jobs, especially in engineering and construction-related fields, she said.

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