The Marco Polo is three-and-a-half football fields long. It would be roughly the height of the Eiffel Tower if it was stood on its end. Image by Alf van Beem, CC- Public Domain.

The Port of Virginia enjoyed a milestone event on May 23, with the arrival of the CMA CGM Marco Polo at the Virginia International Gateway (VIG). The vessel is the largest container ship ever to call on the East Coast. In addition to Hampton Roads, it made stops at ports in New Jersey, Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

The Marco Polo is owned by the international shipping and logistics company CMA CGM, headquartered in Marseille, France. The company’s North American headquarters are in Norfolk, Virginia. The ship, at 1,300-feet in length, carries a Bahamian registry, and when it was completed in November 2012, it was the largest container ship in the world measured by capacity.

Container ships are measured by TEUs – the unit of the capacity of a container ship. Marco Polo has a capacity of 16,022 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, the equivalent of about 8,000 40-foot truck trailers of goods. There are container ships today with TEUs of 23,964 20-foot equivalent units.

The previous record-holder at Port of Virginia was the 15,000 TEU MSC Virgo, which called last month. Five years ago, the record stood at just 10,000 TEU – a marker of how rapidly U.S. ports have expanded capacity.

Port officials cited the ship’s arrival as the culmination of years of work, and hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to upgrade the capacity of the port, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“What we expect is that this is just a continuation of a trend,” said Stephen A. Edwards, who became the chief executive officer and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority in January.

Edwards added, “This vessel’s size highlights the importance of our channel widening and deepening project. By 2024, Virginia will have the widest, deepest, and safest commercial channels and harbor on the US East Coast.”