The Seagirt Marine Terminal may be the most potent weapon in the Port of Baltimore's arsenal, but it would be wrong to aim it at any one competitor, according to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.
Several times during the ceremonial opening of the state's newest terminal yesterday, Schaefer mentioned the stiff competition from ports in other states.
"We're going to bring business in, but we're not going to concentrate on hurting anybody else. I don't think you should do that in America," Schaefer said.
Without mentioning it by name, he alluded several times to Hampton Roads, Va., the complex at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay that has enjoyed record growth over the past 10 years, largely at the expense of Baltimore.
"There is one port that is trying to destroy us. They have concentrated on trying to beat us out," said Schaefer, who has lately become a frequent critic of the marketing tactics used by Hampton Roads.
He recalled a visit four years ago to Hampton Roads when officials there dismissed the competition from Baltimore and vowed to take all the freight.
Seagirt should be able to lure business new to the port, Schaefer said. So far, the two tenants who have signed leases for Seagirt are moving their operations from other terminals at the port.
Seagirt's opening day was hailed by port officials as productive and impressive. The shiny, blue and white 20-story cranes performed better than expected, for example. Aided by computerized controls and superfast machinery, the cranes handled an average of 28 to 30 standardized cargo containers an hour, compared with a rate of 23 to 25 an hour normally recorded at the Dundalk Marine Terminal.
For an hour in the morning, the pace hit 36, said Michael Angelos, general director of Maryland International Terminals, the operating arm of the Maryland Port Administration.
"I'm very pleased," Angelos said. The terminal's unionized workers even started working the first ship a few minutes before the start of their 8 a.m. shift, he said.
Computer bugs, construction delays and other problems have held up the opening of the $250 million terminal for more than a year and threatened to turn it into an expensive embarrassment for the state.
The first ship, the 600-foot-long Rafaela S., experienced engine trouble and arrived at the port late Monday night, a day later than originally planned. Officials hastily rescheduled an hour-long ceremony that took place yesterday, with commemorative gifts presented to the ship's captain and officials of its owner, the Mediterranean Shipping Co.
Champagne was distributed and the new terminal toasted as the black and white Rafaela S. and an orange city fire boat exchanged horn blasts.
"It's a great day and we're now moving forward with Seagirt," Schaefer said. "It's a very big deal for the state, not just Baltimore."
He said that the terminal may operate in the red for the first couple of years but that the economic activity it generates would make it worthwhile.
Nearby, at a portion of the terminal operated exclusively by Sea-Land, the port's first container crane stood at rest. Revolutionary when it was installed in the mid-1960s, the black and white crane appears small and primitive compared to the giant Seagirt machines.
"It really is the start of what I once called the renaissance of the Port of Baltimore," said Lorenzo DiCasagrande, vice president at Baltimore for Containership Agency Inc., the agent for Mediterranean Shipping.
Many of the containers handled were full of cargo headed to or coming from the Midwest, business that Mediterranean Shipping previously sent through the rival Port of Hampton Roads, Va., DiCasagrande said.
The ship last previously called at New York and will was scheduled to arrive today in Hampton Roads.
Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, long active in maritime affairs, said, "This really is a very significant event."
She predicted the opening of the terminal would mark a reawaking of the port's "spirit," lost over the past 10 years as thousands of tons of cargo a year were lost to competing waterfronts.
With 100 acres of storage space, the 265-acre Seagirt terminal has fast cranes, an adjacent rail yard, a sophisticated truck gate and other features that its designers hope will speed the flow of goods through the port.