Dredging the Port of New York and New Jersey to 55 feet would be an “important step” to easing supply chain problems by reducing wait times for ships facing navigational constraints and allow more post-Panamax ships to call the US East Coast’s busiest box port, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
Lt. General Scott Spellman, Commanding General for the USACE, last week signed off on a four-year study jointly undertaken with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) on the merits of deepening the port from its current 50-foot depth, essentially endorsing it as environmentally and economically sound.
The commander’s endorsement of the study sets the stage for the USACE to seek Congressional funding in the 2024 Water Resources Development Act that would help pay for the dredging. As a co-sponsor, PANYNJ will also contribute to the project.
The USACE study also recommends that all bends in the 35 miles of channel leading into NY-NJ port be widened to accommodate longer ships. In addition, it recommends the Ambrose Channel, which is the main entrance into lower New York Harbor where ships wait at anchor, be deepened to an unspecific amount from its current 58-foot depth.
The USACE said larger ships coming to NY-NJ face navigational restrictions due to the narrower channels and shallower depths. As a result, ships have to come in with fewer containers or have to idle in the Ambrose Channel until tidal restrictions ease. Tides, and their influence on channel depth, can mean ships have to wait eight to 24 hours.
“The fleet of container vessels regularly calling on the Port of New York and New Jersey today includes longer and deeper vessels that experience maneuverability inefficiencies at the existing channel bends’ widths, and are depth-constrained at the existing channel depths,” the USACE said in a statement endorsing the study. “This causes light loading of vessels and economic inefficiencies.”
Col. Matthew Luzzatto, Commander of the USACE’s New York District, said in the statement that deepening and widening the NY-NJ port, which has road and rail reach into 17 states, will be an important driver of economic activity into the US East Coast.
“The signing of the Chief’s Report is an important step in alleviating the supply chain issues we have been facing and puts us one step closer to accommodating larger post-Panamax ships in our ports,” he said.
PANYNJ Port Director Bethann Rooney said in the statement that her agency is ready to work with other port stakeholders on bringing the proposed dredging forward “so that one day we will be able to welcome the industry’s largest container vessels, which is particularly critical as the seaport continues to handle record cargo volume and growth.”
The largest ship that has called NY-NJ was CMA CGM’s 16,000 TEU Marco Polo in May 2021. A year after that vessel called, there are now queries from ocean carriers about bringing in an 18,000 and 21,000 TEU ship to the port.