A giant sails into Charleston, making history First post-Panamax vessel ushers in new era for port

The Hannover Bridge, which can carry more than 9,000 cargo containers, visited the Port of Charleston in 2016 via an expanded Panama Canal. It was the first post-Panamax vessel to visit Charleston, which expects to host an even larger ship this spring. File/Staff

A large cargo ship that navigated the newly expanded Panama Canal this month arrived at the Port of Charleston on Thursday, a milestone for the local maritime industry.

The 1,102-foot-long Hannover Bridge sailed from Savannah to the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant. It can carry the equivalent of 8,200 20-foot containers.

The vessel is classified as a “post-Panamax” ship, meaning it was too large to squeeze through the Panama Canal before the world-famous waterway was expanded. It is the first to stop in Charleston since the completion of the $5.25 billion project in late June.

“We look forward to seeing this larger class of vessels more frequently in our harbor, which offers the depth and capacity required to serve the biggest ships deployed to the Southeast,” SPA chief executive Jim Newsome said in a written statement Thursday.

While the term post-Panamax is now moot, South Carolina’s maritime agency is seeing more ships that fell under that category. They now account for 16 of Charleston’s 26 weekly container vessel calls, Newsome said.

The port is hoping to attract more so-called mega-vessels now that Panama can accommodate them.

The Hannover Bridge is part of the CKYHE Alliance’s weekly All Water East Coast Loop 3 Service that connects the Southeast with China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea. Its next stop is Norfolk, Va.

The SPA expects to welcome its biggest ship ever later this year — a 14,000-container vessel — but it did not elaborate Thursday. For now, that distinction goes to the NYK Adonis, which can carry about 9,592 20-foot boxes and tied up at Wando Welch in late December.

Charleston currently has the deepest harbor in the Southeast. The SPA said it routinely handles ships that are more than 1,100-feet-long and 150-feet-wide with drafts up to 48 feet.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is seeking funding to deepen the local navigation channel to 52 feet, which would give the port the deepest harbor on the East Coast.

Contact John McDermott at 843-937-5572.