Cyprus vessel takes on less cargo to avoid running aground
After spending the last 1 1/2 weeks in Portland taking on a cargo of Northwest wheat, the shiny new Cyprus-flagged Efrossini departed this week for Egypt with less than a full load for her maiden voyage.
That's because the Columbia River channel isn't deep enough to accommodate a ship its size when it's filled to capacity.
The Efrossini is a Panamax vessel, which means it's so big it clears the Panama Canal's locks with only micrometers to spare. Its 106-foot girth is the maximum the canal can accommodate. The ship will inch its way east through the canal on its monthlong voyage to Egypt.
Sitting at the CLD Pacific Grain O Dock just upriver from the Steel Bridge, the big ship's hull reached nearly to the Broadway Bridge.
If the channel were 3 feet deeper, the ship would be carrying another 5,400 metric tons of grain, said Wayne Signer, regional manager for Kerr Norton Strachan Agency, the Mobile, Ala.-based steamship agency that manages the ship's cargo transactions.
'It's more than a political story, really,' Signer said of the Port of Portland's campaign for dredging that would deepen the river channel from 40 feet to 43 feet.
'This port is in decline primarily due to competitive cost structures,' he said. 'The extra 3 feet would be a big incentive and advantage for us Ñ at least offsetting some of the disadvantage. It's more than just politics: It's real dollars, real jobs.'
According to Signer, ocean shipping accounts for 20 percent of Oregon's gross domestic product, which translates to 40,000 family-wage jobs. 'It's a big story,' he said. 'We never get our due. But low profile is always the traditional way of ocean shipping.'
The soft white wheat grown on ranches in Oregon, Washington and Idaho is the wheat that Egyptian buyers prefer, Signer said. But overall, he said, ' it's cheaper to buy from the Mississippi River,' in which case the wheat is soft red wheat.
As a small crowd of visitors from the shipping trade went aboard the Efrossini last week for a brief ceremony to mark its first voyage, the wheat pouring into one of the cargo holds sent a toasty smell drifting across the big ship's decks.
Barges brought most of the wheat downriver on the Columbia-Snake system to Portland. Some of it arrived by train. It would have taken 20 barges ÑÊor six 100-car unit trains Ñ to carry it all.
On the wing deck of the Efrossini's bridge, representatives of the Port of Portland and the Merchants Exchange presented Capt. Sotirios Bois and chief engineer George Konstantinidis with plaques commemorating the ship's maiden voyage. They will be put on permanent display on the ship, Bois promised.
Bois and Konstantinidis live in Greece. Bois, the son of a seaman, has been a sailor since 1964, a ship's captain since he was 29. He lives in Piraeus. The remainder of the ship's 21-member crew is Filipino, and Bois said they have sailed with him on several voyages.
This is the fifth brand-new ship he's captained, Bois said. Efrossini's launch in Japan featured colored streamers and the release of doves.
The gleaming 738-foot bulk carrier, owned by Efragil Shipping Co. of Limassol, Cyprus, arrived in Portland on March 2 to load a cargo of 58,500 metric tons of Northwest-grown soft white wheat at the CLD Pacific grain dock, a joint facility of grain exporters Cargill Inc. and Louis Dreyfus.
The Efrossini combines 21st century technology with ancient traditions.
Built by Tsuneishi Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. in Japan, it cost an estimated $25 million to $28 million. It's the sixth of a fleet of 12 new ships being built for Efragil by Tsuneishi, her captain said.
The ship's bridge is studded with high-tech equipment, including a voice data recorder of the kind found on airplanes. A helicopter landing pad sits on one of the gigantic forward hatch covers.
But a gold and silver icon of St. Nicholas occupies a prominent place on the bridge. Bois said a Greek Orthodox priest from Korea blessed the new vessel.
'Protector of the seamen,' said the captain, who has another St. Nicholas icon on the wall of his office.
Religious holidays are celebrated aboard the ship. For Easter, Bois said, they will barbecue a lamb to observe the Greek Orthodox tradition.