Ship narrowly clears Skyway, becoming biggest to ever dock at Port Tampa Bay

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Port Tampa Bay has welcomed the largest ship it has ever hosted. At 1,100 feet long, 140 feet wide and 135 feet tall, the Dalila can carry 240 million pounds -- the weight of some of the largest cruise ships in the world.

This week, it carried 8,500 shipping containers into the port. About 200 containers were offloaded, with goods headed for department stores around the Bay Area.

"The average American is always fascinated with the big things," said Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson. "Anywhere they're buying goods, it is coming in on ships like this."

The French shipping company CMA CGM added Tampa to a route that includes China, Korea, Houston and Miami. 

The Interstate 4 corridor has half the state's population and the most distribution warehouses. Instead of trucking it all in, the stuff gets where it's going, faster.

"This means we are now on the map with the global container business," said Anderson.

Because the ship goes 41 feet down and the channel itself is 43 feet deep, the port had to conduct last-minute dredging so the ship could fit. Given the top of the Dalila passed under the skyway with 45 feet to spare, the 8,500-container ship is about the biggest the port can handle.

"We are always going to err on the side of safety," said Anderson. "That is what we did, we made a little bit of a shave and a haircut to make sure she got in."

At 8,500, the Dalila holds almost twice as many containers as the second-largest ship ever to dock in the port. They are hoping to one day welcome a ship that can carry 10,000 containers.

The arrival came with a public relations blitz and celebration for the port and shipping company. 

"This is not just a big deal because it is a big ship," said Anderson. "It is a big deal because it creates new economic opportunity in Tampa Bay."