A quarter-mile-long megaship that's the largest cargo ship ever to visit the U.S. sailed smoothly under the Golden Gate Bridge en route to the Port of Oakland Thursday morning, giving veteran sea watchers the thrill of a lifetime.
The 1,300-foot long Benjamin Franklin, the 10th largest container ship in the world and wider than an eight-lane freeway, cleared the iconic bridge with about 20 feet of space to spare.
"It's incredible," Matt Gerhardt of Piedmont said, one of the many people who came out to witness the sight. "I think that is one frickin' big ship."
"I have never seen anything like it in my life," said Port of Oakland spokesman Mike Zampa, while watching the ship cruise into town. "I don't get excited by a lot, I'm 65 years old. But this gave me the chills. It's just the biggest thing I've ever seen. It's the future for the Port of Oakland."
Zampa didn't know exactly what was on the ship. But in general, imports from China and Korea, contain: Consumer electronics and laptops, clothes, footwear, household goods, wicker furniture, ceiling fans, and machine parts for assembly.
The megaship can hold up to 18,000 20-foot shipping containers. The largest ships serving the U.S. can carry 14,000 containers.
The Benjamin Franklin is operated by CMA CGM, based in Marseille, France. It left from China last month, and stopped in the Port of Los Angeles over the weekend. It will stay at Berth 24 at the Ports America Outer Harbor Terminal until Sunday afternoon or Monday morning.
Shipping company officials said they plan to use the ship in regular service connecting China with the West Coast of the U.S.
Oakland is one of only a handful of U.S. ports that can receive megaships, which carry large loads of cargo. The port has invested millions of dollars in changes, including dredging berths and channels to depths of 50 feet, raising the heights of cranes and modernizing marine terminals, port officials said. The Port of Oakland pioneered container shipping in the 1960s, Zampa said.
Last month, port officials announced they will be raising the height of four gantry cranes at the Oakland International Container Terminal by 26 feet to accommodate megaships. The $13.95 million project is scheduled to begin in April.
NBC Bay Area's Lilli Tan, Bay City News and the Associated Press contributed to this report.