Hapag-Lloyd, one of the top five steamship lines in the port, may stop sending its ships to Baltimore, Timothy P. Collins, the line's vice president of operations, said yesterday.
"We're looking at some schedule changes. . . . It's been a question the last month or so whether it's necessary to put a ship in there or not," he said. No official decision has been made, but one could be forthcoming in "a week or so," he said.
Hapag-Lloyd shares space on ships owned by Atlantic Container Line, which also ranks as one of the biggest lines in the port. Because of the ship-sharing agreement the two lines coordinate their Baltimore operations very closely.
The announcement came as a surprise, since Maryland Port Administration officials have been saying they expected both ACL and Hapag-Lloyd to be the next lines to agree to become tenants at the state's Seagirt Marine Terminal.
Mr. Collins said Hapag-Lloyd is still interested in going to Seagirt if the line decides to remain in Baltimore. Should Hapag-Lloyd elect to stop sending its own ships to Baltimore, it could still continue to serve the port with the space it has on the ACL vessels.
That, however, would mean both ACL and Hapag-Lloyd could claim only once weekly service instead of the current two ships a week.
Hapag-Lloyd's re-evaluation of its schedule is a response in part to a space-sharing arrangement it is working out with yet another line, Canada Maritime, which operates between Montreal and Northern Europe. That arrangement could allow Hapag-Lloyd to drop Halifax, Nova Scotia, from its schedule.
Hapag-Lloyd's schedule on the East Coast includes direct port calls at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Norfolk. As part of the reorganization of its schedule, the line has already announced that it plans to drop Philadelphia.
Rebecca Reid, a spokeswoman for Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer, said it was not unusual for steamship lines to conduct studies of their port schedules but that port officials still hoped the line would be attracted to Seagirt.
Stephen R. Crouch, senior vice president for Hale Container Line, said he doubted Hapag-Lloyd was using the threat of leaving Baltimore to get a better deal at Seagirt.
"No, I don't think it's a ploy," he said. "They're the type who do studies and take action on it."