The young seaman snapped a salute as the visitors walked onto the naval vessel in Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday, but no admiral was on board. Just capitalists. But in these days of European economic integration and ever-freer trade, they might be the real commanders.
The ship was the Danish tall ship Danmark, and the visitors were about a dozen Maryland executives whom Danish Consul-General Leif Donde and other officials were wooing aboard the 253-foot craft to do business in the small Scandinavian nation.
"Denmark is a seafaring nation," Mr. Donde said. "It has always looked out for trade."
Mr. Donde said the ship has been used to cement U.S.-Danish relations before, when it was used by the United States during World War II as a Coast Guard training vessel. Yesterday, it was helping the consul-general with a more mundane mission. The diplomat is a business person with a sale to make. His product is his country.
The message Mr. Donde and his team of diplomats brought is that the center of economic power in Europe is moving north and east -- toward, well, Denmark. The road to Northern and Central Europe -- and especially Eastern Europe and the Baltic states -- is through Copenhagen, the Danes insist. Berlin is only 150 miles away. Brussels, Belgium, is about three hours by train.
"Denmark is a really uninteresting market, with only about 5 million people," Mr. Donde said. "But Denmark is integrated into the European Union."
The other message is that Denmark is making itself into a communications hub, with especially good satellite links and other hookups to the old Eastern bloc. The Eastern market is a potentially rich lode for information technology companies, said Mr. Donde, who said U.S. firms can make profits by helping to modernize Communist-imposed information infrastructures that stagnated in those nations' economies.
Companies "are after strategic investments, licensing agreements, technology transfer with the European Union," said Victor Webb, a spokesman for the New York-based consulate. "Some of them are interested in Eastern European countries, and they're interested in Denmark as a conduit to those countries. Denmark has positioned itself as a conduit."
The Danes' guests were impressed, but for now, many were just kicking the tires.
"We make equipment that is used in [telecommunications] systems," said William Culver, chairman of Optelecom Inc. in Gaithersburg. But he said the company has no immediate plans to expand into Central or Eastern Europe.
Karl Blomgren, new venture business manager at Allied Signal Inc.'s communication systems division in Towson, said he went on the tour to meet officials he might want to do business with later. "You never know what's going to come up," he said.
Mr. Blomgren said the Danes were trying to lay the groundwork for more U.S. companies to open regional offices in Denmark, as well as to promote the port of Copenhagen. And he said the shipboard meeting was a good way to start.
"It's a novel way to showcase a national treasure like that, the tall ship. Allied Signal has used the Pride of Baltimore the same way," he said. "Copenhagen is a beautiful city. They have certainly got a draw."