A container ship carrying four huge cargo cranes into the Port of Baltimore on June 20 had all the allure of opening night of the summer's big blockbuster movie.
Spectators crowded every place they knew that would afford a good vantage point to watch the state-of-the-art cranes as the ship, the m/v Zhen Hua 13, slowly and adeptly maneuvered them first under the Bay Bridge and then the Francis Scott Key Bridge en route to the Seagirt Marine Terminal.
While spectators were busy snapping photographs and shooting video of the ship's unusual cargo, the port was ushering in a technology that will give it a competitive edge over most other ports and allow it to do business with the world's largest container ships.
"These cranes represent the future of the Port of Baltimore," Gov. Martin O'Malley said in a statement from the Maryland Port Administration.
The arrival of the cranes represents "another major step" toward reaching the goal set in 2010 with Ports America Chesapeake to build a new deep water container berth capable of handling the larger ships that will be able to pass through a widened Panama Canal beginning in 2014, O'Malley said in the statement.
The cranes, known as Super-Post Panamax, are the largest of their kind in the maritime industry, according to port officials.
Each crane weighs about 1,550 metric tons, can reach 22 containers across on a cargo ship, lift 187,300 pounds of cargo and stand 140 feet off the ground when in a working position, according to the statement.
They're even environmentally friendly—the all-electric cranes will emit no diesel emissions, according to port officials.
Seagirt Marine Terminal, which is the port's primary container facility, currently has seven smaller cranes known as Post Panamax that can reach 18 containers across on a ship.
The new cranes, which arrived disassembled, are expected to be installed and operational by September, according to the statement.
Construction of the port's new 50-foot container berth, which was completed earlier this year, makes the Port of Baltimore one of only two East Coast ports—joining Norfolk—to have a 50-berth and 50-foot channel, according to port officials.
The new capabilities are "key elements" in the 50-year agreement between the Maryland Port Administration and Ports America Chesapeake that was signed in 2010, according to the statement.
Under the agreement, Ports America runs the daily operations of the 200-acre Seagirt terminal and is making the necessary infrastructure improvements, including the new berth and cranes, at its own expense, saving the state "hundreds of millions of dollars."
Officials hope the new capabilities position the port to continue its role as an economic driver for Baltimore and the state.
The partnership between the port administration and Ports America is expected to produce 5,700 new jobs.
The total investment and revenue to Maryland could reach $1.8 billion over the life of the agreement, including $15.7 million in new taxes, officials said.