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September 26, 2017

Eimskip ramping up its Portland ship calls as MDOT plans second crane

File Photo / Tim Greenway
File Photo / Tim Greenway
Larus Isfeld, Eimskip USA's managing director, shown in a 2014 file photo at the International Marine Terminal in Portland. Eimskip announced weekly shipping to Portland starting on Dec. 1, instead of the current biweekly schedule.

Starting Dec. 1, Icelandic-owned shipping company Eimskip USA will call into Portland once a week as the state moves ahead with plans to bring in a second crane.

Eimskip, which is to be the anchor tenant in Americold LLC's future waterfront cold-storage facility, brought container shipping back to Portland in March 2013 with biweekly ports of call.

It currently comes to Portland 36 times a year. That will go up to 52 times a year this December, a 45% increase in frequency. Since coming to Portland, Eimskip has seen 20% traffic growth each year.

Larus Isfeld, managing director of Eimskip USA, told Mainebiz on Monday that the increase is across the board and is not limited to one type of cargo.

"It's a very mixed bag of goods coming from all over New England, to a lot of our ports in northern Europe — which is actually very good for us," he said.

The news comes as the Maine Department of Transportation moves ahead with plans to bring a second crane to Portland's International Marine Terminal, with a formal request for proposals scheduled to go out in the next few months.

"We will really try to hold inside of a year timeline for the acquisition of a crane," said MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot. Asked whether the crane would be like the one that's there now, he said, "I can't say it's going to be identical, but it's certainly going to be similar."

Eimskip's presence in Portland has prompted the Maine Port Authority and the MDOT to revitalize the once-derelict International Marine Terminal. In 2016 they announced the award of a federal FASTLANE grant to further improve IMT infrastructure and operations.

The grant will go towards the purchase of a second crane as well as strengthening and enlarging the pier, building a new maintenance and training facility, and further improving rail connections at the port.

The MDOT said that having a second crane will allow for ships to be loaded and offloaded more efficiently, and help support the additional traffic.

In a statement, MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt said the department was "very excited" about Eimskip's move to increase ship calls to Portland. "Our investments in the IMT, totaling more than $45 million in public and private funding, have reinvigorated commercial shipping to the Port of Portland, providing Maine businesses with opportunities to lower logistical costs and reach markets across the world."

The news comes less than a week after John Henshaw stepped down as executive director of the Maine Port Authority, the state agency overseeing Maine's marine and rail facilities in support of economic development. He has been a long-time supporter of a waterfront refrigerated warehouse.

He and others see the planned facility as a way to keep Eimskip here while giving Portland an edge over larger, more crowded ports and supporting food and drinks industries, from seafood to agricultural products such as blueberries and potatoes.

Eimskip USA employs about 35 people out of 1,500 total for the Icelandic company, which handles most operations in Europe.

In the century that Eimskip has been coming to U.S. waters, this will be the first time the steamship line will offer weekly service to its U.S. port of call.

In MDOT's announcement, Governor Paul LePage said: "This huge increase in ship calls to the International Marine Terminal will provide Maine businesses with better access to foreign markets and increase the global competitiveness of our state."

Eimskip USA's Isfeld said that the company is still waiting for its new headquarters to be built at the future cold-storage warehouse and said the company was not dissuaded by the specter of a retroactive lawsuit should a citizen-led zoning initiative on the fall ballot succeed

"We're just hoping that things will move forward in that area," Isfeld said. "It's a big interest of ours to make sure that happens. We believe that the city will make the right decision. It's up to them."

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