The Maryland Port Administration has embarked on a reorganization of Dundalk Marine Terminal, the largest dock complex in Baltimore, to give steamship lines there some of the same advantages now available only at the state's new, high-tech Seagirt Marine Terminal.
The basic concept is simple. Instead of a crazy quilt pattern of separate storage areas for each major steamship line scattered across Dundalk's 570 acres, two private terminals will be carved out of the acreage adjacent to the large public terminal's principal container cranes. Each of these private terminals, which will serve many steamship lines, will be under the control of a single stevedoring company.
Having many lines operating from a single terminal is standard procedure at most other marine terminals around the world. But Dundalk has evolved over the years into its present unusual -- and inefficient -- configuration.
Dundalk is "a freak of a terminal," according to Maurice C. Byan, president of the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore Inc. He says that the new private terminals will allow the stevedoring companies to serve their customers more efficiently. The result he said should be lower costs for steamship lines and a more competitive port.
The $250 million Seagirt facility may be the crown jewel of the MPA's piers, but Dundalk is more than twice as large. During the first half of this year, Dundalk handled three times as much cargo as Seagirt. Because of its size and importance, the level of efficiency at Dundalk goes a long way toward determining the general level of efficiency in the port.
The Dundalk changes are designed to give steamship lines many of the same operational efficiencies now limited to the few big lines operating from Seagirt, but without the kind of huge public investment that was required at Seagirt.
Under the new approach, the stevedore will have all his customers in one central location, allowing him to use his workers, equipment and space much more efficiently. Centralization will also give the stevedore much greater incentive to invest his own funds to make that terminal more efficient.
For example, at Seagirt the state spent about $10 million to create a computerized system for checking cargo in and out of the terminal. At Dundalk, the stevedoring companies intend to create similar computerized gate systems at their own expense, something they could not have done if they had to develop separate gates for each customer. s Michael Angelos, the Maryland Port Administration's deputy director, said the state will pay part of the cost, but most of the money will come from the private sector.
Although the negotiations between the stevedores and the MPA are not complete, the physical outlines of the two private terminals are fairly definite. Ceres Marine Terminals Inc. will operate an 80-acre facility at the southwestern end of Dundalk, while Universal Maritime Service Corp. will get a similar-size area just to the east.
Christos N. Kritikos, the head of Ceres, said his company has made a "seven-digit" investment as part of the development of the private terminal, which he hopes will be operating by the beginning of next year.
Putting everything in one place also makes some low-tech improvements possible. For the first time, a stevedoring company will be able to increase security by fencing the area under his control. "Today, everything is wide open to everybody," he said. A fence should mean less pilferage and damage.
Ceres' anchor tenant at the new private terminal will be Atlantic Container Line, one of the port's largest lines.
ACL gave the private, or mini-terminal, concept and the port a big boost when it announced on Oct. 1 that it had signed a two-year agreement with Ceres.
Until now, normal practice would have been for a line like ACL to lease space, cranes and berths at Dundalk directly from the MPA. Instead, ACL elected to go along with the private terminal concept by signing up with Ceres to use the terminal space, cranes and berths under the stevedore's control.
That decision to use Ceres' private terminal in Dundalk cements ACL's presence in the port for another two years. And the importance of ACL in Baltimore can hardly be overstated. ACL's ships carry its own containers and those of another line whose ships recently stopped calling at the port, Hapag-Lloyd.
Together that traffic will amount to more than 25,000 containers a year, or about 400,000 tons. That represents about 10 percent of the total container traffic moved across the state's piers in 1990.
Anthony Chiarello, Universal's assistant vice president in Baltimore, thinks his private terminal operation at Dundalk has a big head start over Ceres. Universal already has a computer system up and running at Dundalk. The system was developed by a sister company, Maersk Data Inc., which also created Seagirt's system.
In effect, Universal is already operating a private terminal at Dundalk, even though it has not yet erected a fence around the land it controls. Universal provides stevedoring services for its sister company, Maersk Line, which handles more cargo in the port than any other steamship line. Since opening for business in Baltimore a year ago, Universal also has landed 10 other clients, most of whom it serves from the same area it will operate as a private terminal.
Many of Universal's clients are small to medium-size lines. Mr. Chiarello says he can offer them a computer services they could never afford on their own. Seagirt will remain the port's showpiece, but Dundalk could become a much more attractive for those lines, big and small, that carry the biggest part of the port's cargo. "Better service, and at a cheaper price; it's hard to argue with that," Mr. Chiarello said.