Puerto Rican line agrees to use Seagirt

May 09, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

Puerto Rico Marine Management Inc., the sixth-largest steamship line by cargo volume in the port of Baltimore, has agreed to become a tenant at the state's new Seagirt Marine Terminal.

PRMMI will join Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Evergreen Marine Corp. at Seagirt, the $250 million facility that opened in September.

"This is one more strong signal we made the right decision to build it," Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer said yesterday.

The six-year lease will give PRMMI 20 acres at the 265-acre facility just west of Dundalk Marine Terminal. The line is due to begin handling cargo at Seagirt May 13. The first ship should arrive Friday, May 17.

The lease was approved yesterday by the state Board of Public Works. The actual lease has not yet been signed.

The line currently makes one ship call a week at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

The length of the lease is an encouraging sign, according to Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc. He called it "a positive move" that indicates Baltimore is a part of PRMMI's long-term strategic plan.

With its high-speed cranes, automated cargo-processing gate and associated rail yard, Seagirt is being marketed by the Maryland Port Administration as the most efficient container-handling terminal in the country. After seven months of operation, Seagirt is now beginning to demonstrate what it can do.

The big hurdle for the MPA was getting the first steamship line to sign a lease, Mr. Byan said. "It's a question of who's going to stick his toe in the water first," he said. Now others have started to follow.

The first line to sign was Mediterranean, whose ships began calling there in September. Evergreen followed with its ships a month later. Port officials say they expect Atlantic Container Line and Hapag Lloyd to follow suit soon.

Neither the state nor PRMMI would release details of the lease yesterday. Mr. Lighthizer said that the state receives minimum tonnage guarantees from PRMMI and that the lease gives PRMMI financial incentives for increasing the volumes it moves through Baltimore.

"Seagirt has tremendous volume handling potential," Mr. Lighthizer said. "Hopefully, this is a sign of the future."

PRMMI is the operating company for Navieras de Puerto Rico, owned by the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Navieras ships provide weekly service between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and five ports on the U.S. mainland. Baltimore is the line's only mid-Atlantic port.

In another development yesterday that could affect the port of Baltimore, President Bush lifted a prohibition that has prevented Eastern bloc ships from calling at 12 militarily sensitive U.S. ports, including Hampton Roads, Va. Soviet ships are still barred from those ports, but ships from Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania will be allowed to make port calls.

The decision means that Polish Ocean Lines, one of the most important lines in Baltimore, now has the choice of going to Hampton Roads. POL signed a four-year lease with the port of Baltimore in September 1989. But the line has been pushing for permission to call at the Virginia ports.

Wlodzinierz Pilsznk, the line's head of operations in the United States, declined to comment on the Bush announcement. He said, "We must digest what happened."

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