Zim line leaving port for Norfolk Container ship company served Baltimore 40 years

Shipping

January 09, 1998|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,SUN STAFF

After serving Baltimore for four decades, Zim American Israeli Co. has suspended its service here, becoming the latest major container line to abandon the port.

An agent for the company said the low volume of cargo, combined with Zim's year-old vessel-sharing arrangement with Pan American Independent Line, resulted in the decision to bypass Baltimore.

"Pan American has always called [at] Norfolk, not Baltimore," said Tom Campbell, president of Penn Maryland Steamship Corp., which has represented Zim here since the late 1960s. "Basically they've now made an agreement to do everything via Norfolk."

Zim officials did not return calls to their New York office. The decision, however, appears to be permanent. Ships of the prominent Israeli container line have not called here since late November and no ships are scheduled to dock in Baltimore through February, according to the company's World Wide Web site. Zim's South American service had operated every 10 days out of Baltimore.

Tay Yoshitani, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which operates the state's six public marine terminals, said the MPA made "very, very aggressive offers" to keep Zim at the port. The state agency negotiates with steamship lines over rates for cranes and wharfage.

"The decision was driven more by the cargo and the need to rationalize their schedule," he said, noting that Zim also eliminated other ports from its schedule as it stepped up its South American service from 10 days to 7 days. "It didn't have that much to do with rates and certainly didn't have anything to do with service," he said. "Zim has always been pleased with Baltimore."

Established in 1945, Zim is one of the world's largest container shipping companies, operating 85 vessels and an international network of shipping lines.

Yoshitani said he expects the port will continue to receive the containers by barge or on other carriers serving South America. A third of the containers coming to Baltimore now arrive by barge instead of ship.

The loss of another major steamship line is significant for the port, which has seen its container business dwindle as steamship lines have been forming alliances and choosing fewer ports to save time and money.

That trend has hit Baltimore hard. Maersk Line Inc.'s alliance with Sea-Land Service Inc., for instance, resulted in the loss of more than 120 ships a year here.

While Zim reportedly carried fewer than 200 containers to Baltimore, a ship's arrival still could mean a day's work for several dozen longshoremen as well as line handlers and bay pilots.

The loss of Zim comes at the end of a year in which public terminals had rebounded somewhat after sharp losses in 1996. General cargo moving through Maryland Port Administration terminals declined 7.4 percent in 1996, but is expected to be up about 4 percent for 1997.

The decline in container business has been the driving force behind the port's latest strategic plan, which calls for more aggressively pursuing break-bulk cargo, such as steel and automobiles.

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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