Companhia Maritima Nacional, a Brazilian steamship operator, became yesterday the fourth line in less than a month to announce plans for new or expanded service from the port of Baltimore.
Nacional Line, as it is commonly known, said that its first vessel will call at Baltimore about March 20. Initially the line will have two ships on the route between the East Coast of the United States and Brazil, providing service from Baltimore about once every three weeks.
The company plans to add a third ship later, a move that would allow a ship to call at Baltimore once every two weeks.
Last week, two lines announced expansion plans. Wallenius Lines said it was adding two ships to its trans-Atlantic service, a move that would mean about 20 to 30 additional ship calls for Baltimore a year. Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., announced a new service between Baltimore and the Middle East that would mean about eight ship calls a year.
In early February, Levant Line said that it was moving its mid-Atlantic operations from Richmond, Va., to Baltimore and would make about 18 ship calls here a year.
The spate of good news has been uplifting for port officials and maritime executives hoping to engineer a recovery for the state's piers, which suffered an 11 percent decline in cargo tonnage last year.
"I believe we're on a roll. I believe it's going to continue," Brendan W.
O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said yesterday.
Nacional Line has been operating between Brazil and U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico for about 15 years. In this new venture, the line will begin providing service from four East Coast ports: Jacksonville, Fla., Savannah, Ga., Philadelphia and Baltimore.
In recent years Baltimore has been losing ships and cargo to Norfolk, Va. The pattern has been for lines to send their ships to Norfolk and serve Baltimore by feeder barge. In a reversal of that pattern, Nacional is expected to send its ships to Baltimore and serve Virginia by barge or truck.
"We all like that," said Mr. O'Malley. "That's the way Norfolk should be served."
Mr. O'Malley said the choice of Baltimore helps to affirm the port's image as a "more stable place to be," an allusion to claims that the port is entering upon a period of better labor relations with its longshoremen.
Nacional also chose Baltimore because it offers lower port costs than Virginia, a larger cargo base and excellent rail and highway connections to the nation's industrial heartland, according to Mr. O'Malley. Proximity to markets and good inland transportation were the basis of the port's prosperity before Virginia began to market more effective the proximity of Hampton Roads to the open Atlantic.
Baltimore is demonstrating an increasing ability to "reassert the basic strengths of the port," Mr. O'Malley said.
Kerr Steamship Co. Inc. is Nacional's general agent in the United States. Kerr Vice President Frank J. Martingale said that the line chose those ports "where they thought they could do the best job at the most cost-effective price."
He expects the ships to carry such things as chemicals, machinery, electrical goods and industrial products on the trip south. On the northern leg, he said, the ships will transport
shoes, leather goods, textiles and other finished and semifinished goods.
The choice of Baltimore was another boost for Universal Maritime Service Corp., the company chosen to provide stevedoring services to Nacional in Baltimore.
Universal, an affiliate of Maersk Line, began offering stevedoring services in Baltimore in October. Anthony A. Chiarello, who directs Universal's operations here, said he too is hopeful the Nacional decision is an indication Baltimore may be on the verge of resumed growth.
"There are a lot of positive indications of potential new business," he said.