Lykes Bros. Steamship Co., which launched a new service from Baltimore to the Middle East in February, has added a second ship to the route, a move that will almost double the frequency of the service.
With just one ship on the route, a Lykes vessel bound for Saudi Arabia via Egypt would depart Baltimore once every 45 days. The addition will permit Lykes to offer service once every 24 days.
For the port of Baltimore, it means about 15 ship calls a year on the route instead of eight.
Roger Clark, senior vice president in charge of the line's Mediterranean operations, said the continuation of the Middle Eastern service from Baltimore will depend on how well the port performs. "The fact of the matter is we're giving it a test," he said.
So far just one of the Lykes ships on the route has called at Baltimore. "We had good success there the first voyage," he said.
The line hopes to capture both military and commercial cargo. Because of the Persian Gulf war, military traffic has been high. But Lykes is looking to win more commercial cargo to sustain the operation as military cargo levels decline.
"The military cargo is probably not going to be there long-term, or not this volume long-term," Mr. Clark said.
Even though Lykes is expanding the service out of Baltimore, the line has not yet firmly chosen Baltimore over its archrival, Norfolk, Va. Norfolk is a port of call on another Lykes Mediterranean route, which offers service every 12 days to Italy, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.
In making its decision, Lykes will be examining such things as port costs and productivity, inland transportation rates and the amount of cargo customers route through Baltimore.
Because of its Mediterranean service out of Norfolk, the line has a good sense of what its costs would be in Virginia compared with its experience in Baltimore. "It's being evaluated," Mr. Clark said.
Brendan W. O'Malley, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said that he was pleased with Lykes' decision to expand its service here.
"That's great. It must be a sign of strength in that market," he said.
He expressed no surprise over Mr. Clark's remarks that Lykes might still decide to shift the ships to Norfolk. Noting that steamship lines can easily shift their operations to whatever port offers the greatest advantages, Mr. O'Malley said, "A port is really always being tested. There's no getting around that."