The port of Baltimore hopes its new Seagirt Marine Terminal RTC will be fully leased by the middle of next year, Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said yesterday.
Calling the middle of next year a reasonable target, Mr. O'Malley said, "We certainly hope to have Seagirt filled with containers."
Seagirt, which opened for business in September, has two steamship-line tenants, Mediterranean Shipping Co., based in Geneva, and Evergreen Marine Corp., with headquarters in Taiwan. Both lines were already doing business in the port of Baltimore before moving their operations to Seagirt.
Atlantic Container Line and Hapag-Lloyd, two of the biggest lines in the port, have said publicly that they expect to sign Seagirt leases.
"We are pretty close to getting an agreement," Capt. Michael T. Hundt, director of marine operations for Hapag-Lloyd, said yesterday. "I'd see us in Seagirt pretty soon."
Atlantic Container Line had been expected to be the first line to sign a Seagirt lease and had even picked out Berth 1 at the westernmost end of the terminal. But when Atlantic deferred signing a lease, Berth 1 went to Mediterranean.
There has been some debate within the Atlantic organization about going into Seagirt. The line's ships are unusual because they carry three categories of cargo: cars and other cargo that can be driven aboard (called ro-ro cargo), in addition to containerized cargo.
Seagirt was designed primarily for containers, which has prompted some people at Atlantic to question whether the line will be able to operate efficiently there.
Wieger W. Koornstra, Atlantic's executive vice president, said yesterday that the problems Seagirt presents are not insurmountable and that he expects his line to sign a Seagirt lease about the same time Hapag-Lloyd does.
Mr. O'Malley said he will meet today with Atlantic Container officials at their U.S. headquarters in New Jersey.
Swedish-owned Atlantic and Hapag-Lloyd, based in Hamburg, Germany, cooperate closely and had been expected to share a berth at Seagirt. The two lines lease space to each other on their ships, under what is known as a slot charter agreement. (A slot is a space for a container.)
The cooperation between the two lines argues in favor of one terminal, although Mr. Koornstra observed that having the two lines operate out of separate terminals is a workable, if less than ideal, situation. In fact, the lines do just that in Hampton Roads, Va.
"We're taking our time to look at all aspects," including labor, Mr. Koornstra said. "The labor issues are still kind of fluid," he said.
The current contract with the International Longshoremen's Association expires at the end of this month.
Port officials are still hopeful of attracting some lines whose ships do not already call at Baltimore. High on that list of candidates is Orient Overseas Container Line. The Hong Kong-based line moves about 250,000 tons of cargo by barge through Baltimore annually, making it one of the bigger lines in the port despite the fact that its ships do not call directly.
Mr. O'Malley said the port is "avidly pursuing" Orient's business.
Orient officials have visited Seagirt. "There have been a number of key visits and examinations," Mr. O'Malley said, while refusing to identify who from the line has seen the terminal.
Edwin F. Hale Jr., head of Hale Container Line, which handles Orient's barge traffic, said, "All the ingredients are there for a deal to be made for OOCL. Everything they need is right here."
The hope is that Baltimore could become a load center for Orient, meaning its "mother ships" would load and unload in Baltimore. Barges would transport cargo between the mother ship in Baltimore and feeder ports in the mid-Atlantic.
Such an arrangement would reverse recent trends in which Baltimore has lost ship calls while becoming more and more a feeder port dependent on barge service.