Theodore Roosevelt

The CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt, the largest container ship to travel through the Panama Canal, is headed to East Coast ports and is scheduled to arrive at the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Terminal on Sept. 2. Provided/Panama Canal Authority

A record-breaking container ship named after the U.S. president who started construction of the Panama Canal made its way through the expanded waterway Tuesday as part of a journey to East Coast ports, including Charleston's.

The Theodore Roosevelt, a 1,202-foot-long vessel capable of hauling as many as 14,855 containers, is the biggest cargo ship to traverse the canal — a mark that has been set a couple of times since a major expansion was completed slightly more than a year ago.

"Today's transit not only represents the growing success and adoption of the expanded canal, but also its impact on reshaping world trade," Jorge Quijano, the Panama Canal's adminstrator, said in a statement following the Theodore Roosevelt's passage.

The ship, which began its voyage in Shanghai, is scheduled to call on the Port of Charleston's Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant on Sept. 2, over Labor Day weekend.

Before that, it will make stops in Norfolk, Va., and Savannah. The Theodore Roosevelt will travel to the Port of New York and New Jersey after it leaves Charleston before heading back to its home base in Asia.

To put the Theodore Roosevelt's size in perspective, its length is roughly the equivalent of laying end-to-end two Great Pyramids of Giza, four Big Bens or eight Statues of Liberty.

Owned by the CMA CGM shipping line, the vessel is part of the Ocean Alliance's South Atlantic Express service, a group of 11 ships that can carry between 11,000 and 14,000-plus cargo boxes. The alliance, one of three formed by global shipping lines, has weekly calls at the Port of Charleston.

Erin Dhand, spokeswoman for the State Ports Authority, said the maritime agency won't know until next week how many cargo containers will be moved on and off the Theodore Roosevelt when it is docked in Mount Pleasant.

Sign up for our new business newsletter

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.


The SPA set a record with 3,593 cargo moves on July 23 when the OOCL shipping line's Malaysia was in port. Another OOCL vessel — the France, capable of hauling 13,926 containers — for the time being holds the largest ship record at the port for its June 3 visit. It eclipsed the 13,092-container COSCO Development, which arrived on May 13.

The Theodore Roosevelt is the fourth in CMA CGM's "Presidents of the USA" series of ships, joining vessels named after George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. President Roosevelt — who served from 1901 to 1909 — pushed for the U.S. to build the Panama Canal, with construction starting in 1904. The canal opened a decade later.

In addition to announcing the Theodore Roosevelt's passage, canal officials on Tuesday said they expect an increase in the number of ships that will pass through the waterway during the 2018 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. The Panama Canal Authority projects about 13,000 vessels will travel through the canal in the upcoming fiscal year, including 2,335 of the big container ships now calling on East Coast ports.

That represents a roughly 55 percent increase in the number of big ships that traveled through the canal during its first year of post-expansion operations.

Growth in the number of large container ships traversing the canal has prompted the SPA and state and federal governments to spend about $2 billion on projects to better accommodate the vessels. Those projects include a new container terminal in North Charleston, improvements to Wando Welch and dredging Charleston Harbor to 52 feet, giving the Port of Charleston the deepest channel on the East Coast.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_