Largest container ship ever to visit U.S. arrives in Seattle

The giant container ship Benjamin Franklin pulls into Seattle.

SEATTLE - The largest ship to ever dock in North America pulled into Seattle on Monday morning.

The Benjamin Franklin, one of the largest container ships in the world, dwarfed everything else in Elliott Bay as it maneuvered slowly toward the Seattle dockyards.

The mega vessel, which is carrying electronics and other goods for stores like Target and Best Buy, could mean big business in the future for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.

It's a chance for the two ports to prove they can handle the next generation of megaships, which are typically used between Asia and Europe.

The Benjamin Franklin is 1,310 feet long -- twice as long as the Space Needle and nearly three times longer than the largest Washington State ferry. It is also wider than a football field.

The ship, which is based in China, is heading this way from Oakland, Calif., where it cleared under the Golden Gate Bridge by just 20 feet.

A normal cargo ship carries roughly 10,000 containers, but this ship carries almost twice that amount.

Once it unloads, it will load up again with some of Washington state's biggest exports, including lumber and apples.

Officials say the Benjamin Franklin's port visit is a kind of audition that will allow the Port of Seattle to prove it can handle the behemoth.

Puget Sound pilots boarded the ship early in Port Angeles to bring it into Elliott Bay and nestle it safely up to Pier 18 on Harbor Island.

The pilots have been practicing on the simulator at the Pacific Maritime Institute to be ready for any conditions. They know maneuvering a 200,000-ton mega ship doesn't leave much room for error.

"We knew when we got the opportunity to get this ship in Seattle -- we knew as pilots the biggest challenge was going to be the wind and making sure we can get it in here safely," said Capt. Erik von Brandenfels.

He says for weeks the pilots have tested their skills in the simulator with winds up to 30 knots which is equivalent to 88 tons of force pushing the ship sideways. Two pilots will guide the Benjamin Franklin, working the bow thrusters on its 80,000 horsepower engine with three tugboats pushing and pulling on command.

"The ability for us to bring this in and out seamlessly and have all the cargo work its way to its home to Chicago or wherever its going to go is important for us as a port," von Brandenfels added. "We are going to prove that we have that ability."

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