Megaship cruises into Bay Area

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 OAKLAND, Calif. (BCN) -- The largest container ship to ever visit the U.S. docked at the Port of Oakland Thursday morning, a milestone that port officials say will herald a new era of "megaships" bringing cargo between the West Coast and Asia.

The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin docked at the port just before 11 a.m., slowly pulling under the port's iconic white cranes while dozens of onlookers snapped photos of the mammoth ship.

At 1,300 feet long, 177 feet wide and 197 feet tall, the Benjamin Franklin can haul up to 18,000 shipping containers, far more than the 14,000 that the biggest ships to visit Oakland have carried until now.

The ship is longer than the height of the Empire State Building, wider than an Olympic-sized swimming pool and is nearly too tall to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge, but successfully traversed it at about 9 a.m.

Operated by the Marseille, France-based shipping company CMA CGM, the Benjamin Franklin has made its maiden voyage from Asia, bringing finished products such as beverages, furniture, glassware, plastics, electronics and steel products from China.

It made its way to Los Angeles on Saturday before arriving in Oakland today. When it departs for Asia on Monday, it will export agricultural products like fruit, nuts and meat, as well as wood pulp and
cereals, according to port officials.

CMA CGM has a fleet of 470 vessels shipping cargo to 40 commercial ports worldwide. The Benjamin Franklin is expected to return to Oakland regularly, hauling cargo between China, South Korea and the West Coast.

"This is a milestone for the Port of Oakland and for U.S. trade," port Maritime Director John Driscoll said in a statement. "We'll see more of these big ships before long. This vessel also represents and reinforces the economic partnership between the U.S. and France."

It took years and millions of dollars for Oakland to prepare for the arrival of such giant vessels. Channels to the port had to be dredged to 50 feet, cranes had to be raised to accommodate its height, and the marine
terminals have been modernized to accommodate the increased import and export

While such megaships have been operational for years, until today they only operated between Asia and Europe. Even now, few U.S. ports have deep enough channels for the larger vessels traveling from Asia, and East

Coast ports are limited by the width of the Panama Canal, port officials said.

Port officials say this will be a boon for port cities on the West Coast, creating more jobs and further improving the area's economy. Despite a work slowdown stemming from a labor dispute earlier this year, imports at the
port have gone up nearly half a percent over last year as of November.

"The CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin's call at the Port of Oakland was made possible thanks to a tight collaboration with all stakeholders at the port," CMA CGM America president Marc Bourdon said in a statement.

"By welcoming the largest container ship ever to call at U.S. ports, authorities have demonstrated their willingness to be part of an ever growing shipping industry," Bourdon said.