Polish shipping authorities, politicians and gawkers alike gathered Wednesday at Stogi Beach near the Port of Gdansk to watch the arrival of the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller, the first of a new class of giant Triple-E class container cargo vessels, the daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
A full eight stories tall, the 1,300-foot-long, 195-foot-wide "megaship" was guided into port by tugboats as onlookers marveled at its sheer size.
"(The tugs) look like ants moving an elephant," they told the newspaper.
The arrival of the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller came during a maiden voyage that has already seen the vessel celebrated in Asia, where it was constructed by South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding to become a workhorse of the Asia-Europe trade routes.
Christened in June, it is the first of five such huge ships the Danish carrier will introduce by the end of this year. It has ordered as many as 20 new Triple-E ships worth nearly $4 billion.
The vessel's European tour began last week in Rotterdam and included a stop at Bremerhaven, Germany, Sunday before Wednesday's arrival in Gdansk.
Still on the itinerary were calls next week in Aarhus, Denmark, and Gothenburg, Sweden.
The giant ships are being employed not only because of their ability to achieve economies of scale but also to save on fuel.
Maersk says its Triple-E vessel is "the most energy-efficient ship in the world," touting its "innovative design and technological features" which it says will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 50 percent for every container it moves, compared to the industry average in Asia-Europe trade.
Gdansk Port Authority President Dorothy Raben said Wednesday its appearance during its first voyage signals Poland's international competitiveness and its importance as an economic and sea trade hub, Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
"Today we are witness to a strong economic recovery," she said.
Maciej Kwiatkowski, chief executive of port operator of DCT Gdansk, added its visit cements the seaport's status the main entry point for Asian trade with Eastern Europe.
"The presence of the container ship here demonstrates the importance of the port of Gdansk," he said. "We're showing that we can compete with other ports of cargo to and from not only Poland but also nearby countries such as Slovakia, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. We are a gateway to these economies."
But while the introduction of ever-larger megaships benefits big ports such as Gdansk, they are putting pressure on smaller ports to upgrade while others may be left out entirely.
"There are massive requirements for the ports and the companies that operate them, especially when the port is upriver," Flemming Dalgaard of European port operator DP World told the Canadian trade journal Ship & Bunker.
"In the Port of Hamburg, there are a lot of environmental considerations to keep in mind, as well as the fact that many ports weren't designed to have ships of [1,300 feet] turning around in the port basin, and many ports don't have berths wide enough to support ships of that size," he said.