Maersk Line of Denmark, already one of the biggest shipping lines in the port of Baltimore, plans to increase calls here by 25 percent as a result of the company's decision to expand service to South America.
Starting in January, Maersk will route three containerships through Baltimore on their trips from New York to the West Coast of South America and back.
That will add 24 more regular calls a year -- roughly one every two weeks -- at the port of Baltimore.
"It means new ships coming into the port, and that provides hours of labor for the bay pilots and the longshoremen in the port, plus business for truckers and rails," said Adrian G. Teel, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. "It impacts almost every aspect of the port."
A year ago, Maersk gave Baltimore a vote of confidence by signing an unprecedented 10-year lease at the Dundalk Marine Terminal. Thedecision to send ships through Baltimore as part of the company's South American expansion stems largely from that lease commitment, according to David L. Bindler, Maersk's regional director in Baltimore.
"All ports were considered, but the 10-year lease at Dundalk played the largest part in the choice of Baltimore," he said.
The Maersk lease agreement last year was a large psychological boost for the port, demonstrating that it could compete with Virginia in the high-stakes battle for big shipping lines and the economic benefits they bring. Just two years earlier, Maersk had shifted one-third of its ships from Baltimore to rival Norfolk, Va.
The Danish company, which currently makes 104 stops a year in Baltimore, moves more than a half-million tons a year, or about one in every seven containers handled on state-owned piers in Maryland.
Port officials are carving out two private terminals at the 570-acreDundalk site, one of which would be run by Maersk's stevedoring subsidiary.
The move by Maersk to launch the biweekly service to South America reflects a growing interest by shipping companies in that increasingly lucrative market.
"South America is like the Far East used to be 25 years ago," said Mr. Bindler. "A lot of countries there have high technology and other products. They're developing the need for good transportation."
Among other things, Maersk will bring containerized fruit to Baltimorefrom South America, helping the port diversify and siphon business from Philadelphia, which now handles 90 percent of all fruit cargo from South America.
Maersk becomes one of several lines to add service this year at the port of Baltimore. In addition, 10 shipping lines have begun to have their ships stop in Baltimore during the past year. None left during that period, but one went out of business.
Most observers said the port was beginning to regain a competitive edge after watching business evaporate for a number of years.