Line adding 3rd weekly call here; Mediterranean move boosts container business; South America run; 'Very good news for us,' port executive says; Port of Baltimore


Mediterranean Shipping Co., a global steamship line based in Geneva, will add a weekly stop in the port of Baltimore next month, giving a boost to the container cargo business that local officials have struggled to maintain in recent years.

The Swiss company will add Baltimore to its service connecting the U.S. East Coast with the west coast of South America. The first ship is to call here Nov. 26.

"This is really very good news for us," said Jim White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which manages the state's public marine terminals. "It should be a pretty good hit for us -- it has the potential to pick up a lot of cargo."

Mediterranean Shipping Co. already makes two weekly calls in Baltimore -- a service to Europe and one to South Africa and Australia. Not counting the new stop, it will move about 30,000 containers through the port this year.

By adding another stop in Baltimore to its schedule, Mediterranean is moving against the trend that has caused the city's container cargo business to dwindle over the last decade or more. With shipping lines consolidating services, and customers demanding fast delivery, Baltimore's location 10 hours from the Atlantic Ocean has become a growing liability in the container shipping trade.

But Capt. Lorenzo Di Casagrande, a Mediterranean vice president, said the company has customers who want to ship cargo to the Baltimore-Washington region and the Ohio Valley, and that those markets are easier to serve from the port of Baltimore. While containers can move both ways, most cargo on the service will be imports coming to the United States.

"Steaming up the bay is a cost that we have, yes, but as long as we have the customers, it is worth it," Di Casagrande said.

The new service also bolsters a trade that Maryland port officials have long hoped to develop as a niche. While the port of Baltimore has difficulty competing in the big-ticket trades with Asia and Europe, trade with South America has proven a worthwhile market.

The service will be the first to connect Baltimore directly with South America's west coast. Most shipping lines "trans-ship" their eastbound cargo through a hub port such as Freeport, Bahamas.

The new service will call at the state's Seagirt Marine Terminal, and should bring as many as 10,000 truck-size cargo containers every year, White said. And it could bring the port of Baltimore's annual container volume back to about 300,000 boxes a year -- about the same as last year.

In February, the port of Baltimore lost the Far East service of China Ocean Shipping Co., which left the city in favor of Norfolk, Va. That service accounted for about 20,000 cargo containers a year in Baltimore -- about 5 percent of the port's annual business.

But with the new MSC service, and increased volume from other shipping lines in Baltimore, White said, the port's container business should grow slightly this year.

"This will help replace some of the business we lost, and should give us an additional 1.5 to 2 percent growth in containers this year," White said.

Mediterranean Shipping operates 138 ships in virtually every major trade lane, stopping in 169 ports. The new service will call in the Chilean cities of Arica, Valparaiso and Talcahuano; and Callao, Peru; Guayaquil, Ecuador; and Buenaventura, Colombia. The ships go through the Panama Canal and call in Miami; New York; Charleston, S.C.; and Baltimore.

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