Ship shape

Some facts about Maersk Lines’ Axel Maersk.

Built: 2003

Length: 1,155 feet

Capacity: The equivalent of 9,310 20-foot-long containers. By that measure it’s smaller than Mediterranean Shipping Co.’s 1,102-foot MSC Sindy, which visited Charleston in August 2011. The Sindy is configured to hold the equivalent of 9,580 20-foot containers.

Next destination: Suez Canal and Malaysia

Onboard amenities: A movie theater and gym for the crew.

Bob Myers set out on Waterfront Park in Mount Pleasant with his camera in tow and a smartphone to track the whereabouts of the Axel Maersk as the mega-ship cruised toward Charleston on Monday morning.

The Charleston County school teacher, who was on vacation, occasionally comes to the pier near the base of the Ravenel Bridge to watch ships maneuvering through Charleston Harbor.

The sights of the Axel Maersk, the longest vessel to call at the Port of Charleston, sparked Myers’ curiosity and that of nearly a handful of other onlookers snapping pictures of the bright blue container vessel as it slowly passed the park.

“I think it is just phenomenal that it can carry that many cargo containers,” Myers said. “It’s just huge, I don’t know how else to say it.”

The 1,155-foot vessel set a new record by eclipsing the 1,105-foot-long MSC Chicago, which docked in Charleston earlier this year.

The ship was the first of three “post-Panamax” ships to arrive in Charleston on Monday. Others included the 997-foot MSC Barbara and the 1,065-foot MSC Rita.

Post-Panamax describes vessels too long or wide to squeeze through the current Panama Canal.

The longest vessel to travel through Charleston didn’t faze the crew of two dozen, said ship captain Michele Gladwin.

Gladwin added that there was a sense of extra precaution from the pilot who boarded the vessel at sea and guided the ship to its berth at the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. Tug operators were on a heightened sense of alert as well.

“There were four tugs and I’ve never had four tugs guiding us in before,” Gladwin said.

John E. Cameron, executive director of the Charleston Branch Pilots Association, said pilots typically take extra precaution when handling a vessel for the first time to ensure “everything went smoothly.”

“We are very serious with getting familiar with how it can handle in our channels,” he said.

The Axel Maersk was roughly two hours delayed from its 8:30 a.m. scheduled arrival from Savannah. Its arrival went largely without a hitch, and the ship made it to the terminal before the planned 1 p.m. work start time.

The terminal was abuzz as seven of its 11 cranes loaded and unloaded the three large container ships lined together Monday afternoon. Dock workers shrugged off the hoopla, merely calling Axel Maersk a big ship, but in all the work mirrored a “typical day.”

SPA officials say about six post-Panamax ships call at Charleston each week, and the number should continue to rise.

Many ports along the East Coast are in a race to deepen shipping lanes to handle larger vessels expected to flow through an expanded Panama Canal in 2015. Charleston’s shipping channel is 45 feet deep, but the goal is to take it to 50 feet.

It can receive big ships that draft 48 feet of water and carry the equivalent of more than 9,500 20-foot shipping containers when the tide is high enough.

The Axel Maersk’s draft was 42 feet when it arrived Monday.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 843-937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.