Growth brings new calls on port

Maersk Line, a member of the new 2M alliance, is the world's largest container shipping line and the Port of Charleston's biggest customer. File/Staff

Foreign container shipping firms are taking advantage of the strong dollar — and its resulting boost in European exports to the U.S. — as well as population and manufacturing gains in the Southeast by adding new routes that will call at Charleston and other East Coast ports.

Dubai-based United Arab Shipping Co. recently launched its NEU-1 service that will have weekly sailings between five ports in Northern Europe and four U.S. ports: New York; Norfolk, Va.; Charleston; and Savannah. The largest container shipping company in the Middle East, United Arab also has ordered an additional 3,500 refrigerated units for the new service and recently expanded routes in a partnership with the France-based CMA CGM shipping line.

Jorn Hinge, UASC’s president and CEO, said in a statement that the new service is part of the company’s goal of “continuously exploring enhanced geographical reach and improved products, while always safeguarding reliability and service excellence.”

Called the New Vespucci line, the partnership will use vessels with a capacity to carry about 4,500 20-foot-long cargo containers.

The new service will let CMA CGM “capitalize on the strengthening of the U.S. economy and continued growth in trans-Atlantic trade,” Marc Bourdon, president of CMA CGM America, said in a statement.

In addition to the northern Europe service, Charleston is getting a pair of new services from Asian markets.

Evergreen Line will call on Charleston with ships carrying up to 5,000 boxes, and Maersk Line, the world’s leading container shipping company, is bringing 4,300-container ships from China.

Erin Dhand, spokeswoman for the State Ports Authority, which operates the Port of Charleston, attributed some of the changes to the so-called mega-alliances that the world’s largest shipping companies have formed in recent years to lower their costs.

At the same time, she said, many of the shifts “reflect the all-water service trend in which the shipping lines have realized the economic benefit of delivering cargo to the port closer to its final destination. Customer demand for East Coast services has grown, and that is also reflected in the addition of new services.”

The Port of Charleston is picking up additional imports from Asian countries because shippers are less concerned about longer ocean transit times, according to the Journal of Commerce, an industry publication.

Jim Newsome, SPA president and CEO, told the journal that only 20 percent of U.S. inbound container freight needs to be offloaded at the nearest port.

“And it’s getting lower every year,” Newsome told the publication.

Through April, imports were up 14 percent year-over-year to the East Coast, 21 percent to the Gulf Coast and down 5 percent to the West Coast, according to the PIERS international trade database. Imports were up 45 percent at Savannah, 26 percent at Houston, 16 percent at New York-New Jersey and 14 percent at Charleston — all reflecting shippers’ willingness to accept longer transit times, the Journal of Commerce reported.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_