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Port of Oakland welcomes its largest vessel

The 19,200-TEU MSC Anna is retrieving empty containers piling up during the coronavirus crisis to return to Asia

The 19,200-TEU MSC Anna is guided to the Port of Oakland on Thursday. (Photo: Flickr/Port of Oakland)

The largest vessel ever to call the Port of Oakland berthed Thursday afternoon as part of a special assignment to return empty containers to Asia.

The 1,312-foot MSC Anna has a capacity of 19,200 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

Previously the largest vessel to call Oakland was the 18,000-TEU CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin in 2016.

The Anna departed Shanghai on March 26 and called the Port of Long Beach late last week before sailing for Oakland. 

The containership was on special assignment from the Geneva-based MSC to collect a backlog of empty containers in Southern California before arriving in Oakland, according to a press release from the Port of Oakland.

A rash of canceled sailings from China to the United States during the coronavirus pandemic has created empty container repositioning challenges.

Mike Zampa, the Port of Oakland’s communications director, said he did not know how many empty containers were being picked up there. “That’s mostly for Long Beach, where empties were backlogged. It’s not an issue in Oakland.”

Zampa told American Shipper that the Anna arrived at the Port of Oakland carrying containers filled with apparel, footwear, consumer electronics, household goods/furniture, toys and factory components.

The vessel was expected to remain in port about 24 hours discharging the import containers and loading exports.

To prepare for the Anna’s arrival, the San Francisco Bar Pilots Association conducted computer simulations at the Cal State Maritime Academy to get a better understanding of navigational demands created by mega-ships. Pilots navigate ships in and out of San Francisco Bay and guide them to ports.

“The San Francisco Bay is one of the most challenging pilotage grounds in the world, and safely piloting these huge ships requires expertise and significant training,” said Joseph Long, president of the Bar Pilots Association. “The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of the global supply chain to our region’s economy. We are pleased to continue our tradition of safety and service to support this vital part of the infrastructure.”

Like other U.S. West Coast ports, Oakland reported a year-over-year container volume decline in March as the coronavirus spurred blanked sailings from Asia.

During March at the Port of Oakland, container imports declined 10.3%; the return of empty containers to Asia dropped 23%; and the number of ships calling the port decreased 10.6% year-over-year.

Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.