After implementing extended gate hours to ease congestion, officials at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are turning their attention to a new generation of large ships that could overwhelm them with cargo.


The ships, which haul 8,000 or more 20-foot equivalent containers, require fewer trips to deliver the same amount of goods carried by ships that average 4,000 to 5,000 TEUs. That makes them less expensive for shipping companies, which plan to bring 150 of them into service over the next two to three years half dedicated to trans-Pacific trade.


The ships are certain to spike the increase in cargo volume rolling through the local port complex. Smaller ports on the West Coast have little chance of handling the loads. So port officials especially in L.A., where the ships are not yet calling are racing to get ready.


"They are coming online faster than the infrastructure of North America is geared to handle them," said Jon DeCesare, principal of Long Beach-based World Class Logistics Inc.


Last summer, the Port of Long Beach became the first port in the nation to begin scheduled stops for the next-generation vessels. The port takes two to four of the large ships a week, a number expected to rise to six or seven in the near future.


In L.A., a $222 million dredging project that will allow the port to accept the ships in its inner channel is still two years away from completion. The port is also upgrading its facilities, spending tens of millions of dollars to expand and reinforce wharfs so that they can support more cargo and absorb the impact of the huge vessels bumping into them.


On-dock rail facilities are also being enhanced to help move cargo out of the terminals quicker. Tenants have installed 12 mega-cranes capable of reaching across 23 containers to load and unload cargo on the far side of a ship. More cranes are on order, at a cost of at least $7 million each.


Port officials are also encouraging tenants to reconfigure their terminals to double their capacity to handle 10,000 to 20,000 20-foot containers at a time so the big ships don't cause slowdowns.


"Land is at a premium here and we're not looking at any major build-outs," said Arley Baker, spokesman for the L.A. port. "We want to be proactive in looking at their needs in the years ahead."

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