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BIG SHIPS CAN PASS … BUT ITS GONNA BE A TIGHT FIT

Very few posts we’ve published have engendered quite the level of reaction as our recent article on the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. bridge … and whether it is sufficiently high to permit passage of the latest generation of super-large container ships.

As it turns out, a great many people are greatly displeased at our assertion that it might not be …

(Missed the article? Click HERE).

Responses have ranged from dismissive to downright conspiratorial, with one especially vexed industry expert accusing our founding editor of “deliberately misinforming the public in furtherance of (his) personal grudge with the Governor’s Office – intentionally fabricating facts to deprive South Carolina of shipping business.”

Whoa … them’s fightin’ words (not to mention descriptive of the sort of actual malice that would be grounds for an actionable libel complaint, were the Ravenel bridge a public figure).

Officially, there has been no response to our post from the agency of record … the S.C. State Ports Authority (SCSPA). Apparently, a formal response was viewed as somehow legitimizing our media outlet (if not our reporting). Accordingly we’ve been informed (very politely and professionally, it’s worth noting) that there are no plans for the agency to address what we wrote.

What did we write?

Basically, we questioned whether larger container ships – specifically ships capable of holding 10,000 and 12,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (a.k.a. TEUs – the common shipping industry metric) would be able to successfully navigate underneath the bridge to reach both the Wando Welch and North Charleston terminals.

We also expressed grave doubts as to whether 14,000 TEU-sized ships would be able to pass beneath the 186-foot high bridge – to say nothing of the massive 15,000 and 18,000 TEU-sized behemoths coming out of Daewoo, South Korea shipyards in recent years.

“The ability of next-generation container ships to safely pass under the Ravenel Bridge is … an issue that needs to be addressed – if for no other reason than their inability to do so would expose colossally poor planning on the part of state leaders who spent $632 million in taxpayer money on this bridge,” we wrote.

Anyway …

We did have one particular background (not for attribution) discussion in the wake of our story which – while at times was quite condescending toward our little “blog” – seemed to offer us a knowledgeable, front-line perspective on the issues up for discussion.

In fact we were able to confirm that the source we spoke with is actually some sort of “Deciderer” when it comes to assessing which ships can – and cannot – fit under the Ravenel Bridge.

According to this source, we are basically irresponsible idiots with no conception of what constitutes a bridge’s actual clearance.

“There’s no single number to describe (clearance),” the source told us. “The 186-foot number is a worst-case number – what the Coast Guard wants to see. That’s at the extreme ends of the (bridge’s) span, too.”

According to this source, six international shipping concerns contacted the SCSPA in recent days asking whether their 13,000 TEU-sized container ships could navigate under the bridge.

All six were cleared to travel under the bridge …

As for 15,000 TEU-sized ships “those are close,” the source said, adding “they may fit” (again, somebody cue Michael Scott). Some 15,000 TEU-sized ships might be able to make it under if minor modifications were made by their owners.

The very largest container ships – like the 18,000 TEU-sized Maersk McKinney Moller – will never pass under the Ravenel Bridge, though.

Nonetheless …

“(Charleston) maintains the largest under keel clearance safety margin in the United States – ten percent of the draft,” the source said. “And (the port) is moving Post-Panamax ships at full load, which are the largest ships calling on East Coast ports.”

FITS will continue to investigate the Ravenel Bridge clearance issue – and we welcome all sources to chime in. We also hope to commence a discussion in the coming days about the Don Holt Bridge – which ships must navigate under if they wish to call on the SCSPA’s North Charleston terminal.

That bridge is even lower than the Ravenel Bridge …