WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - After a short jaunt up the Cape Fear River Thursday morning, two new neo-Panamax cranes now call the Port of Wilmington home.
The $33.8 million cranes arrived in the Port City around 10:30 a.m. and usher in new economic opportunities for the port.
The new, larger cranes weigh more than 1,500 tons each and will allow the Port of Wilmington to service bigger cargo ships which will benefit the entire state.
"We can do a great job with a couple ships at a time right now, but if you're doing a great job but you can't service a larger piece of the market, you're going to be limited," Vice President of Trade Development for the Port Hans Bean said. "So as soon as those larger vessels came, it was a proof of concept Wilmington is on the map. Wilmington is serving for the future."
According to Bean, the cranes will also help the economy.
"It's really about capability for the port, but ultimately for the customers," Bean said. "There's a significant trade base here in North Carolina, both import and export, and this just gives us more tools in the toolbox to service that market."
The port held watch parties at Waterfront Park in Southport and Riverlights Marina and River Road Park in Wilmington.
"This is why people, I believe, want to live in Southport because this is not just an event to see this big ship coming in but to be with friends and people you maybe don't see at 7 o'clock on the riverfront right here, so it is really pretty cool," Paul Pillis, who watched the cranes sail through in Southport, said.
State and federal agencies worked together to close the 26 miles of the Cape Fear from midnight to about 10:30 a.m. Thursday for safety. Plans have been in the works since January 2018.
Seventeen boats, including four Coast Guard vessels, escorted the ship carrying the cranes.
According to Coast Guard Officer Christopher Fuentes, it was fun for them also to see the cranes up close.
"Our day-to-day operations consist of working the ace navigation in this area, working the ranges and the buoys," he said. "So for us to be able to get up close to a ship of this size for us as a crew is absolutely amazing and to see the size of these cranes and see how we get them all the way up the port."
The new cranes will be unloaded on April 1 and April 3.
According to officials, a third crane is expected to be delivered to the port later this year. The additional cranes are part of a $200 million infrastructure improvement project.
Last year, the Port of Wilmington announced the purchase of the two cranes from Shanghai Zhenua Heavy Industry Co. Ltd. The cranes left Asia at the end of January and began their two-month journey to Wilmington.