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Port Tampa Bay welcomes its biggest container ship ever

TAMPA — Check out the size of this ship.

The CMA CGM Dalila, the largest container ship ever to call at Port Tampa Bay, passed under the Sunshine Skyway bridge Wednesday en route to a berth at Port Tampa Bay.

The 1,096-foot-long vessel is the first container ship to arrive from the CMA CMG Group, a global shipping company based in Marseilles, France. Port Tampa Bay officials announced in February that the shipper's Pacific Express 3 was adding Tampa as a weekly stop on a route that includes calls in China, Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea, then, after passing through the Panama Canal, Houston, Mobile, Ala., New Orleans and Miami.

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The CMA CGM Dalila can carry up to 8,469 20-foot-long shipping containers — though only some of them are destined to be off-loaded at Port Tampa Bay — and other ships in the CMA CGM line can carry up to 9,500 containers each.

CMA CGM said Wednesday that it added Tampa to its weekly Pacific Express 3 service because Port Tampa Bay is the closest port to Florida's fastest growing region and its largest consumer market: the Interstate 4 corridor between the Tampa Bay area and Orlando, which has nearly half of Florida's population of 21 million and its largest concentration of distribution centers. It is a base, the company said in an announcement of the ship's arrival, from which exporters and importers can reach all of Florida and markets in the southeastern United States and beyond.

"We have been serving the Gulf (of Mexico) since 2005, and the inaugural call of the CMA CGM Dalila marks another milestone in our long-term commitment to the region," CMA CGM America president Ludovic Renou said in the announcement.

"The customers spoke, and CMA CGM listened," Port Tampa Bay president and chief executive officer Paul Anderson said in a statement released through the company. "The ongoing development of our terminal facilities and the addition of our new larger cranes, in line with the Panama Canal expansion, was key to accommodating this new service."

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Still, over the last week or so the ship's expected arrival provoked some local speculation about whether it was too big for the approach to Tampa, especially in light of the fact that a contractor for the Army Corps of Engineers has been dredging the shipping channel.

Army Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson said the dredging project was a long-planned maintenance job that had actually begun last year and was resumed this spring. Before work began again, she said, a survey of channel conditions was done in March, and the corps decided to start on a part of the channel where some sediment had built up, she said.

On Tuesday, Capt. Allen Thompson, the executive director of the Tampa Bay Pilots Association, expressed no doubts about the ship's ability to arrive unimpeded. The main shipping channel has a project depth of 43 feet, he said, while the CMA CGM Dalila has a draft of 40 feet, 8 inches, which is comparable to some big oil tankers that call on Tampa. He also expected it to help that the ship would come in on a rising tide.

It did.

"We got the tide we wanted," Thompson said Wednesday. The ship's size presented a challenge, but things went went smoothly, and "it was a very uneventful transit."

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times