Seagirt wants only container lines Change of mind will delay official pledge to fill new terminal.

July 25, 1991|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Evening Sun Staff

The $250 million Seagirt Marine Terminal will not be filled as quickly as Baltimore port officials had promised because the port's new administration has decided to become more selective in the tenants it chooses.

Atlantic Container Line, one of the largest shipping lines at the port, was informed this week that the state will not allow it to lease space at Seagirt, says Michael Fox, ACL's general sales manager. The decision disappointed ACL and has prompted the line to reevaluate its business in Baltimore and other ports.

ACL was once considered a prime candidate for the high-tech terminal. It operates ships that handle containers as well as logs, cars, boats, heavy equipment and other cargo.

But Adrian Teel, Baltimore's new port director, says Seagirt will be reserved exclusively for container lines.

Container cargo, which is moved in big metal boxes the size of truck trailers, creates nearly 40 percent of the jobs at the port, according to state officials. Leasing the terminal to steamship lines that carry roll-on/roll-off cargo such as automobiles would require special equipment to be installed at Seagirt, Teel says.

"Seagirt was built as a premier container terminal," he says.

Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer says he would rather leave space vacant at Seagirt than lease it to the wrong customers. About half of the acreage has been leased at the state-of-the-art facility, which opened last September.

With space available, the port might be able to lure a steamship line that is not already calling at Baltimore, he says.

Lighthizer appointed Teel in May to head the port, replacing Brendan "Bud" O'Malley, who resigned in April.

Under O'Malley, the port reached a tentative agreement with ACL in June 1989 to lease space at Seagirt. In September 1989, ACL signed a letter of intent to become the first tenant at the terminal.

But ACL and the MPA never reached a final agreement.

"The thing that disturbs us is that they tried to sell it to us a year or a year-and-a-half ago," says ACL's Fox. "Now there appears to be a change in policy."

Although ACL is taking another look at its vessels and ports of call, Fox says the line will continue to negotiate with the state on renewing its lease at Dundalk Marine Terminal.

Seagirt has been promoted as the new jewel in the port's crown, which has become tarnished as cargo lines have left Baltimore to call at competing Virginia ports.

So far, all of the tenants in Seagirt have moved from other locations in the port. Teel says no other port tenants, except ACL, have expressed a desire to move to Seagirt.

Three lines now operate at the terminal.

Two shipping lines -- Geneva's Mediterranean Shipping Co. and Taiwan's Evergreen Marine Corp. -- leased space last fall. In the spring, the state was negotiating with ACL and two others -- Puerto Rico Marine Management Inc. and Hapag-Lloyd Inc. -- to move to Seagirt from the Dundalk Marine Terminal.

In April, O'Malley predicted that Seagirt would be filled by the end of the year.

Puerto Rico Marine moved to Seagirt as planned.

But Hapag-Lloyd stopped making direct calls to the Port of Baltimore, opting instead to charter space on ACL vessels. Thus, the decision to bar ACL effectively bars Hapag-Lloyd cargo from Seagirt as well.

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