"It's creating a significant buzz in the industry," said Jonathan Daniels, executive director and CEO of the port, about the cranes manufcatured by ZPMC. "We're fielding inquiries; we're working with shippers; we're working with carriers to make sure these are not only used for existing tenants but allow us the opportunity to bring in new tenants in the future."
He said confidentiality agreements prevented him from saying much about who might be coming to the port.
"Nothing would make me happier than to stand here and make an announcement that we have someone coming in," he said. "But we continue to work on that. We're fielding calls. Some of them are just the simple inquiries. Some of them are saying, 'Hey, we understand that your going through the port development project, we understand you have new cranes coming in. Do you have time because we're going to be coming down there next?'"
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He said although the shipping channel won't be deepened to allow the new Panamax ships, the largest in the industry, to use the port, there are larger ships that can call on the port with the channel at 36 feet that will be attracted by the new cranes and the dramatic increases in efficiency for loading and unloading that they offer.
"Ultimately, the size of the vessels will be determined by the shipping lines, not the Port Authority," he said.
And he said critics who say the cranes are too big for the port and its traffic are wrong. The three cranes can handle vessels that are 18 containers wide, he said, and the port now handles vessels that are 11 containers wide. They could accommodate up to 100 tons, he said, "heavy lift" capacity the port didn't have.
"If we bought smaller cranes, five years from now if we end up with the larger ships and we don't have the crane size, the same people will say we did not plan properly for the future.
"It's bigger than the vessels we handle right now. But it's also something, since it's a 40-year investment, it's something that we need to make sure we're planning well into the future.
"You also don't want to have a crane that's too small, that stresses the crane because you're having to take it way out to the end of the boom. It creates an unsafe environment."
The new lease signed with Dole requires the port to have two gantry cranes, he said, adding that the third crane assures them they'll have two in operation if one breaks down. He said many components and electronics will be elevated high enough to protect them in a hurricane.
The cranes were two years in the making and left China in early January. He said no one in the United States makes gantry cranes.
"Unfortunately, they don't," he said. The only inquiries received on the project were from China and Europe.
The cranes will be taken off the ship and placed on their new home on the West Pier starting as early as Monday. Daniels said he expects the cranes to go to work in 60 to 90 days.