No room for error in bringing container crew up the Columbia

The passage of a Chinese heavy-lift ship up the Columbia River with a new container crane made headlines as it passed under two highway bridges on its way to the Port of Portland. Zhien Hua 1 departed Shanghai fully loaded with five of the huge cranes. Four of them were destined for Seattle. It was the fifth one that provided the challenge for the bar and river pilots on the Columbia.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge clearance was checked by tape measure (literally) and a survey team to confirm the figure of 207 feet. The crane height above the water was established as 192 feet. The 771-foot-long, 72,399 deadweight-ton ship crossed the Columbia Bar in the early morning of April 27 with bar pilots Capt. Robert Johnson and Capt. Dan Jordan on board. It moored off Warrenton, Ore., until first light when two Foss tugs were made up to the ship at the bow and stern. At low water with a minus tide of about 1 foot, it slipped under the bridge just after 0800. The four people standing on top of the crane who were taking last-minute measurements didn’t even have to duck.

A mile past the bridge, the ship then took on Columbia River pilots and continued upstream to Longview, Wash., where it anchored overnight in sight of the Lewis and Clark Bridge (clearance 195 feet). Zhen Hua 1 was ballasted down to a 40-foot draft — the depth of the Columbia ship channel — with approximately 2 feet of freeboard. One Foss tractor tug was secured barge-style at the stern and two were on towlines at the bow.

At 1300 in low water, the ship approached the bridge at half a knot with Capt. Steve Dobbins and Capt. Mitch Allgower on the ship’s bridge wings and the Columbia River Pilots’ president, Capt. Paul Amos, in command on top of the crane with a hand-held radio, accompanied by members of the survey team. Amos estimated the final clearance at 7 feet, since one of the team reached up and actually touched the bridge.

“A lot of planning and homework went into this,” Amos said later.
The $7.5 million post-Panamax crane has a 60-long-ton capacity and a 169-foot reach. The third of its class at Portland’s Terminal 6, it will replace a smaller crane.

By Professional Mariner Staff