JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – JaxPort and the TraPac Container Terminal at Dames Point welcomed the largest container ship to ever visit a Florida port Saturday. The ship transited the Suez Canal from Asia before reaching the U.S. East Coast.
Although the ship is moving a significant amount of cargo during its Jacksonville stop, it could not access the port at full capacity due to the 40-foot depth of the St. Johns River shipping channel. A project initially planned to deepen 13 miles of the St. Johns River from 40 feet to 47 feet and was estimated to cost $684 million. Earlier this month, JaxPort announced the project would only dredge 11 miles of the river, ending at the Dames Point Bridge -- a change that would reduced the project cost to $484 million.
On Monday, the JaxPort's board of directors unanimously approved the first phase of port funding for the 11-mile Harbor Deepening Project.
JaxPort says the federal government's share of the first phase of the construction has grown to $21.5 million and some of its shipping partners are willing to contribute to the cost. JaxPort is currently meeting with Jacksonville City Council members to discuss local contribution to the project.
"When our harbor is deepened to 47 feet, a ship like the MOL Bravo will move twice as much cargo in and out of JaxPort," said Dennis Kelly, regional vice president and general manager of TraPac Jacksonville.
In addition to funding, the project is facing other obstacles, including a lawsuit filed by the St. Johns Riverkeeper that questions the dredging's environmental impact and economic projections.
JaxPort offers direct trade with Asian ports through both the Panama and Suez canals to three of the world’s three largest ocean carrier alliances, which now dominate Asian trade with the U.S. The port has recorded an average of 21 percent annual growth in Asian container volumes during the past five years.
"We are currently at a depth challenge. When we get the river to 47 feet, we will start seeing significantly more cargo," said Vincent Cameron, president of International Longshoremen's Association Local 1408. "Containers represent jobs and the more containers we bring in the more jobs we create."