Baltimore Loses Round To Va.

January 13, 1995|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

Maersk Line, one of the world's largest shipping companies, is ending its South American service at the Port of Baltimore, shifting those ships to Hampton Roads, Va., Baltimore's primary competitor in the mid-Atlantic region.

The decision, which takes effect next week, will mean the loss of 52 ship calls a year here -- a fifth of the Danish company's current traffic to Baltimore. Even at 200 calls a year, Maersk will remain one of the port's largest shipping lines.

The loss of the 52 ship calls and some 7,000 containers will mean less work for dockworkers and others like bay pilots, but port officials were unable to assess just what the economic impact would be.

And the switch represents a coup for Hampton Roads, which has been vowing to more aggressively seek cargo. Yesterday the Virginia Port Authority predicted the new service by Maersk will provide an additional 70 jobs and generate $1.7 million in wages there.

Officials for Maersk said yesterday the move was prompted by scheduling requirements. "There was simply not enough time in the schedule to go to all the places we were going," said Robert Ford, general manager for Maersk in Norfolk. "We had to evaluate where we can do it a little better, a little faster. . . . One way to do that was cut some ports."

Mr. Ford said that among the factors was the time it takes ships to sail to Baltimore either through the Chesapeake Bay or the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. The Virginia ports, in contrast, are just a few miles from the ocean.

Michael P. Angelos, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which operates the state's marine terminals, said yesterday that Maersk had assured him that "no other service will be impacted by this decision."

And some Maersk containers to and from South America will continue to be barged up the Chesapeake Bay from Norfolk, he said.

Mr. Angelos also said the port still provides excellent service to the growing South American market, with more than a dozen steamship lines serving the area.

Yesterday's shift is the latest round in a long-running duel between Baltimore and Norfolk to be the pre-eminent mid-Atlantic port.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, Norfolk captured a considerable amount of cargo that had gone to Baltimore. But in recent years, Baltimore has been steadily regaining cargo, including some of Norfolk's.

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