The port of Baltimore christened another foot soldier yesterday in its battle to dominate the market for niche cargo that can be rolled on and off ships.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen, the world's largest carrier of such cargo and the port's largest customer, officially named its newest roll-on/roll-off ship, the M/V Talisman, during a red-carpet ceremony at the Dundalk Marine Terminal. It is one of the few ships to be christened in Baltimore since the days when ships were built here.
The significance of the event wasn't lost on Maryland port officials, who are in deep negotiations with the steamship line to develop a new 50- to 60-acre terminal that would handle all of its Baltimore-bound roll-on/roll-off cargo. The company estimates it will increase its port calls to Baltimore by 5 percent to 10 percent by 2001 if the two sides can come to terms.
"This is exactly the type of business that we want to put here," said James J. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration. The port has been in discussions with the steamship line for about two years.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen currently makes about 150 to 160 port calls to Baltimore annually.
However, each ship discharges cargo at an average of two terminals within the port, a time-consuming process that requires more handling of the autos, tractors, heavy construction equipment and other cargo that the company transports. The proposed terminal would allow the carrier to consolidate all its Baltimore business in one location.
"By developing this first-class terminal facility, we'll be able to reduce the number of berth calls dramatically, thus making us more efficient," said Jan Eyvin Wang, president of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Lines Americas, the U.S. division of the company.
Ultimately, the steamship line would like to use the terminal to offer its customers additional port services, such as auto processing and logistical services. For example, autos are typically cleaned, touched up and customized before being transported to dealerships and delivered to customers. About a dozen auto processing companies operate in Baltimore.
The state has already set aside up to $12 million to build the first phase of the terminal at Dundalk. Plans call for additional phases as demand warrants. Officials on both sides of the discussions expect construction to be finished sometime next year.
Demand for roll-on/roll-off carriers has grown in recent years, making it one of the more stable segments of the shipping industry and an important source of growth at the port of Baltimore. Industry analysts expect the market to continue growing.
"On top of that, you will see that the customers will appreciate the [new terminal], as such, and will probably want to move more cargo through this port as opposed to others," Wang said.
The Talisman will join the steamship line's round-the-world trade service, making stops at ports in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Far East and both coasts of North America. Each revolution will take the ship about 125 days.
Stood on end, the Talisman would be roughly 1.5 times the height of Baltimore's World Trade Center. It can carry up to 5,400 cars, but the ship's movable decks and unique design will allow it to adapt easily to carry other types of cargo, such as heavy industrial machinery, farm tractors and construction equipment, among other things.
The Talisman is the second of four new ships Wallenius Wilhelmsen has on order from the Daewoo Okpo Shipyard in Korea. The transportation and logistics company moves about 1.8 million vehicles by sea annually on its fleet of 70 ships.