New York port officials were in Washington, D.C., last week asking the White House for $60 million to continue dredging the Kill Van Kull.
Opportunity for rivals
Meanwhile, other port cities are using the dredging problem in New York as an opportunity to showcase themselves as an alternative. Otherwise secondary harbors such as Baltimore could have enough advantages to steal business as long as New York is perceived as too shallow.
"The draft there clearly is one of the major issues for us," said Clint Eisenhauer, a spokesman for Sea-Land.
"There is no one port that meets all of our wish list of attributes right now, so it's kind of a complex equation. And a lot of things could make the difference."
Baltimore is offering the companies an established marine terminal with direct rail access and a labor pool that is among the more experienced and efficient on the coast.
Port officials refuse to discuss the terms of their offer, but have said they would finance improvements to the docks, dredge at the piers and construct new cranes.
For Baltimore the deal could mean about 550,000 more cargo containers shipped through the port yearly, and more in later years.
All of the port's current shipping lines combined ship fewer than 300,000 containers.
Reversing a disadvantage
Baltimore's historical disadvantage -- its geographic placement 10 hours from the open ocean -- could be its best attribute as the Maersk/Sea-Land negotiations proceed, analysts say.
Even if Maersk and Sea-Land don't send their ships to New York, they still have to send much of their cargo there, and Baltimore is close to the region by truck and rail.
That was a key reason the two companies rejected Norfolk when they narrowed their list of candidates, and the reason most observers suspect that fellow finalist Halifax will never get all of the business.
New York port officials have long said they expect to keep Maersk and Sea-Land's business, and some suspect that if the lines pulled out, their customers would use another line's ships.
When United States Lines went bankrupt in 1986, it was moving 300,000 containers through the port, and all of that cargo was quickly picked up by other shipping companies.