SC Ports welcomes record-breaking CMA CGM MARCO POLO

June 2, 2021

Big-ship capabilities, cargo capacity to handle large vessels

Hundreds of people stood on the shoreline snapping pictures as the massive CMA CGM MARCO POLO sailed into Charleston today, setting the record as the largest ship to ever call the U.S. East Coast and the Port of Charleston.

South Carolina Ports welcomed the record-breaking CMA CGM MARCO POLO to Wando Welch Terminal. The vessel measures 1,300 feet long and has the capacity to carry 16,022 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent container units).
When compared to iconic markers in the Lowcountry, the ship equals 1.5 USS Yorktowns and seven 787-8 Boeing-made Dreamliner jets.

Four ship-to-shore cranes with 155 feet of lift height above the wharf deck are deployed on the CMA CGM MARCO POLO, ensuring the swift movement of more than 2,200 containers filled with goods.

“The S.C. Ports Authority has made South Carolina proud by transforming Charleston into a world-class port that attracts world-class investment and can now accommodate the largest container ships in the world,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said. “We welcome the CMA CGM MARCO POLO and look forward to breaking even more records as our infrastructure continues to improve and our economy continues to grow.”

SC Ports has invested $2 billion in port infrastructure in recent years to handle bigger ships and more cargo for customers.

Work is ongoing to enhance Wando Welch Terminal, including densifying the terminal, strengthening the berths and investing in new equipment. Wando Welch Terminal will have 15 ship-to-shore cranes with 155 feet of lift height above the wharf deck ready to work container ships later this year.

The opening of the Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal in March marked the first container terminal to open in the U.S. since 2009. The Leatherman Terminal adds much-needed port capacity and another berth to the U.S. East Coast port market.

Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District is working to deepen Charleston Harbor to 52 feet; the project is progressing well and is fully funded by state and federal dollars.

The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project achieved a significant milestone this month by reaching 52 feet in the Wando River in front of Wando Welch Terminal. When the project is fully completed in 2022, Charleston will have the deepest harbor on the East Coast at 52 feet, capable of seamlessly handling fully loaded mega container ships at any time, any tide.

These significant projects are occurring while the maritime community and motor carriers provide efficient, fluid operations for customers.

“SC Ports has invested in big-ship infrastructure and terminal capacity to handle the boom in retail goods and ensure a fluid supply chain for customers. The arrival of the 16,022-TEU CMA CGM MARCO POLO highlights the importance of our big-ship strategy,” SC Ports President and CEO Jim Newsome said. “This is a big moment for South Carolina. Our whole maritime community is extremely proud of our ability to handle this ship and of the confidence CMA CGM has placed in SC Ports. Congratulations to our partner CMA CGM on this impressive deployment. We are all proud to share in this milestone.”

The CMA CGM MARCO POLO is operated by the CMA CGM Group, a world leader in shipping and logistics. Ed Aldridge, president of CMA CGM America and APL North America, came to SC Ports to celebrate the arrival of the record-breaking vessel in Charleston.

The Port of Charleston is the last U.S. port of call for the CMA CGM MARCO POLO before it heads overseas after its historic journey.

“The big-ship records we have set this week and the resulting increase in capacity are tangible proof of CMA CGM’s willingness to do whatever it takes to serve our customers,” Aldridge said. “Of course, this would not be possible without the support of our port partners. SC Ports’ recent infrastructure enhancements and the deepening of the Charleston Harbor are the type of investments that enable us to deliver the solutions that keep America moving.”

The deployment of the CMA CGM MARCO POLO signifies the company’s commitment to creating agile and flexible solutions to meet the needs of its U.S. customer base as many ports are handling unprecedented cargo volumes from a boom in e-commerce and retail.

The CMA CGM MARCO POLO is part of CMA CGM’s Columbus JAX service, traveling between South Asia and the U.S. East Coast. The vessel arrives less than one year after the record-breaking 15,072-TEU CMA CGM BRAZIL, which called on SC Ports last September.

“It gives our maritime community great pride to welcome the CMA CGM MARCO POLO to Charleston,” SC Ports COO Barbara Melvin said. “The arrival of this record-breaking vessel highlights the importance of our infrastructure projects, which require great foresight and significant investment to deliver the capacity and capabilities our customers require. Our efforts ensure South Carolina remains a top 10 U.S. container port, in support of South Carolina’s economy.”

Notable quotes

“Port infrastructure investments make milestones such as the CMA CGM MARCO POLO arrival possible. Bigger ships carry more cargo for port-dependent businesses, which in turn creates jobs and growth in our communities. South Carolina Ports supports 1 in 10 jobs in the state and generates a $63.4 billion economic impact in South Carolina each year.” — SC Ports Board Chairman Bill Stern

“Investments to deepen Charleston Harbor and enhance the Port of Charleston to handle bigger ships have been true game changers for our state. The arrival of the CMA CGM MARCO POLO showcases how crucial it is that our port remains a top 10 U.S. container port. SC Ports is the backbone of our state’s economy, supporting jobs and ensuring South Carolina remains globally competitive.” — Senator Lindsey Graham

“The arrival of the CMA CGM MARCO POLO is a major achievement for South Carolina. The Port of Charleston has been a vital economic engine for South Carolina, and the arrival of one the largest ships in the world demonstrates the state’s ability to compete in the global economy. I am pleased that federal and state support enabled the deepening of Charleston Harbor to accommodate today’s mega ships. Those investments will continue to sustain this important contributor to our state’s economic success.” — Congressman Jim Clyburn

“Today, we witnessed history here in the Lowcountry. South Carolina is a world-class industrial hub, and the Port of Charleston generates over $65 billion a year while supporting one out of every ten jobs in our state. The arrival of MARCO POLO is a powerful reminder of just how important the port is to South Carolina’s economy, and how important South Carolinians are to the global economy.” — Congresswoman Nancy Mace

“The arrival of the record-breaking CMA CGM Marco Polo is a major milestone for South Carolina, showcasing our global competitiveness. This achievement is made possible from years of hard work, strategic planning and significant investment. We have the deepest harbor of any port on the East Coast at 52 feet, which enables mega container ships to seamlessly flow through Charleston Harbor and call on the Port of Charleston.” — Senator Larry Grooms, chairman of the Review and Oversight Commission on the State Ports Authority

“Today is an exciting day for SC Ports and for South Carolina as the largest container ship to ever visit the East Coast arrives in Charleston. The CMA CGM MARCO POLO highlights the big-ship capabilities at SC Ports. Our well-run port supports companies throughout our state, serving as a great economic engine for our state.” — Representative Bill Sandifer, Vice Chairman, Senate Transportation Committee and Port Oversight Commission

“The Charleston Harbor Deepening Project will enhance transportation efficiencies in Charleston Harbor by removing tidal restrictions, enabling Neo-Panamax vessels like the CMA CGM MARCO POLO to call on South Carolina Ports at any time. Taking a project of this scale and impact from a feasibility study to completion in 12 years and within just six years of its federal construction authorization is a testament to the professionalism and determinization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District, the vision of SC Ports and the cooperation of local leaders.” — Lt. Col. Rachel Honderd, district commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District


About South Carolina Ports Authority

South Carolina Ports Authority, established by the state’s General Assembly in 1942, owns and operates public seaport and intermodal facilities in Charleston, Dillon, Georgetown and Greer. As an economic development engine for the state, Port operations facilitate 225,000 statewide jobs and generate nearly $63.4 billion in annual economic activity. SC Ports is soon to be home to the deepest harbor on the U.S. East Coast at 52 feet. SC Ports is an industry leader in delivering speed-to-market, seamless processes and flexibility to ensure reliable operations, big ship handling, efficient market reach and environmental responsibility. Please visit to learn more about SC Ports.