PORTLAND — Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, has signed a contract with the Maine Port Authority to begin operating out of the International Marine Terminal in Portland, Gov. Paul LePage announced Tuesday.
Eimskip will open a warehouse in Portland and begin providing biweekly cargo service at the end of March, replacing the company’s container operation in Norfolk, Va., according to Eimskip’s website.
The company is moving to Maine’s largest commercial port in order to shorten travel time between North America and Europe.
Eimskip also will partner with Pan Am Railways to offer cost-competitive access to other North American markets, according to the governor’s news release.
LePage met with representatives of Eimskip and Pan Am Railways in January to discuss the new service.
“Maine’s economy will be strengthened by this new service and accessibility to markets,” LePage said in the release. “Maine produces some of the best products in the world and this investment by Eimskip is a testament to that quality.”
Eimskip President and CEO Gylfi Sigfusson said, “PanAm has been very helpful working with us to make this possible and we believe that our work together is critical for success moving forward.”
Details about the contract, the number of jobs to be created and the location of the warehouse will be announced Wednesday at a 10 a.m. news conference at the terminal on Commercial Street.
Portland has been without contracted cargo service for nearly a year, after the New York-based American Feeder Lines suspended operations and closed in April 2012, citing a lack of volume and loss of private investment.
At the time, the terminal was in the midst of a $5 milion, federally funded renovation and expansion that was completed last summer. The Maine Port Authority lost $200,000 it had loaned to the company. Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia, had made similar investments.
In 2011, Eimskip added a new route to its shipping system, connecting North America to northern Norway, according to the company’s website. The new shipping route has opened new markets for Eimskip customers in the North Atlantic.
“The port is well equipped to handle the operation and has been renovated during recent years,” according to Eimskip’s website. “Eimskip will operate a warehouse and an office in Portland and the terminal is equipped with 150 (refrigeration) plugs, a 100 ton mobile crane and other equipment required to serve Eimskip and its customers.”
Eimskip will continue to receive smaller shipments in Norfolk and New York.
Maine’s agricultural, forest and seafood industries will benefit from the expanded service, providing new opportunities for growth in Canada and Europe, Maine officials said.
The service will call on Portland every 14 days and give Maine businesses direct import-export access to eastern Canadian and European markets.
Access to these markets may result in both larger freight volumes and access to previously cost-prohibitive markets for importers, exporters and manufacturers.
John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, said Maine’s congressional delegation helped secure federal investment for the terminal and supported the contract with Eimskip.
“The Port of Portland is a critical piece of Maine’s maritime economy,” said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “I am a strong supporter of the federal TIGER grant program, which has helped the Maine Port Authority expand and rehabilitate Portland’s International Marine Terminal.”
Eimskip’s presence should attract additional private sector investment, as Portland becomes a logistical hub for Eimskip’s North American operations, Maine officials said. Eimskip brings significant freight of its own, and freight volumes are anticipated to increase as additional shippers use the service.
“Transportation in Maine has many faces. While infrastructure is a top priority, our ports continue to be a focus of economic opportunity that helps create jobs,” said Maine Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt.
Eimskip has 1,300 employees in 18 countries and operates 16 vessels in the North Atlantic. Eimskip was established in 1914 and has been sailing to the United States since 1917.