East London sailed into the record books on Saturday, 21 April when the Chinese-owned Zhen Hua 8, a 220m multi-purpose, heavy load carrier docked safely and without incident in the port here. With a beam 42,3 metres, the Zhen Hua 8 is the widest vessel to ever dock in the city. Prior to this weekend, the widest vessel to dock had a beam of only 32m. The Port of East London currently has a beam restriction of 32,2 metres.

Safely docking the massive carrier required military-precision planning and execution, with a range of special arrangements and conditions put in place by East London Harbour Master Captain Gugu Dube, the vessel’s agent, Raymond Pillay of Rennies Ships Agency and the ports marine personnel.

“This was a big moment for East London,” said TNPA’s East London Port Manager Sharon Sijako. “Although this was a once-off concession, it was important for East London to show the rest of the country, and indeed the international shipping fraternity, that we have the expert skill and expertise on hand to safely and efficiently dock vessels of these dimensions.”

Three tugs were assigned to guide the vessel and a 2nd pilot boarded the vessel as additional safety precautions. Wind speed needed to be 5 knots or less and a swell height of not more than 0,5m was needed to allow the vessel into the entrance channel. Further agreements included daytime docking only and maintaining a minimum 0,3m under-keel clearance at all times.

The entire operation proceeded smoothly and according to plan and Zhen Hua 8 was safely docked at K Berth at 09:30 on Saturday morning. Here she discharged nine straddle carriers which will be included into the fleet of straddles currently in use in the Port of East London’s container terminal.

Zhen Hua 8 docked at the Port of East London
Zhen Hua 8 docked at the Port of East London

Saturday proved a busy day, with no fewer than six vessels in port for the day. Prior to docking the Zhen Hua, the car carrier Aniara docked to discharge and load a consignment of vehicles. The Tau Mariner, a mini bulk carrier discharging a consignment of imported sugar was relocated from K Berth to T berth on the west bank. This was followed by the relocation of the container vessel, Horizon to F & G Berth, which is discharging and loading 800 containers. Lubbertjie, a fishing trawler, is in the dry dock for further repairs and the SA Agulhas, which recently underwent major refurbishment in the dry dock, is still on alongside and will sail shortly.

“I am exceptionally proud of everyone who played a part in Saturday’s busy and record-breaking day,” Sijako said. “My thanks and congratulations to all who were involved, and everyone in the maritime industry and port family who work behind the scenes to make a momentous occasion like this possible.”