Icelandic steamship line Eimskip has changed its routes to allow for more frequent container shipments between Europe and Portland, and to provide direct service across the Atlantic without having to transfer containers in Iceland – important steps for boosting its business in North America.

The change, which goes into effect next month, means Portland will be served by a rotation of three Eimskip vessels instead of two. The company will maintain its current schedule of ship calls to Portland every two weeks. However, it will add five vessel calls on the off week distributed evenly throughout the year. The additional calls represent a nearly 20 percent increase in ship calls annually, from 26 to 31.

The shipping company’s added capacity reflects progress toward the goal of offering weekly service to Portland, said John Henshaw, director the Maine Port Authority, which operates the city-owned container terminal in Portland. He said weekly service is the minimum required to serve “just in time” inventory management strategies used by many companies today.

“This is a stepping stone to get to a higher frequency, ideally weekly service,” Henshaw said.

The ability to move goods directly between North America and Europe without transferring containers in Iceland will lower Eimskip’s costs and allow the company to be more competitive with other steamship lines that call on ports in the East Coast, Henshaw said.

The ports of Boston, New York and Montreal all offer weekly container service. That’s what customers expect, said Larus Isfeld, Eimskip’s manager of operations in North America, because frequent service allows customers to ship their products overseas faster. He said weekly service will make Portland a viable export/import option for more manufacturers and distributors with business interests in Northern Europe.

As shipping volumes increase in Portland, Isfeld said, the Icelandic company plans to add more ships rather than increase the size of existing ships. He said the company is on track to meet its goal of providing weekly container service by 2020.

The number of Eimskip containers moving through the port of Portland increased from 3,381 in 2013, to 6,339 in 2014, according to the Maine Port Authority. The agency forecasts that about 7,000 containers will move in 2015.

Isfeld said the new schedule is part of the company’s business plan that was put together in the beginning of 2013 when it decided to move its North American headquarters from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland. The first vessel from Iceland arrived in Portland in March 2013.

Portland is now the company’s only port of call in the United States. Eimskip vessels that call on Portland also call on Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Argentia, Newfoundland.

Eimskip is a niche shipping line that specializes in moving products that need refrigeration. Products coming into the United States are primarily frozen fish, but it also ships bottled water and cryolite, a mineral important in the production of aluminum, which is produced in large quantities in Iceland.

Exports from Portland include consumer goods, food stuffs and building supplies from manufacturers throughout the United States. Products from Maine include frozen and processed food, such as lobsters, blueberries and potatoes, Henshaw said.

The new schedule comes just as the state is investing millions in expanding the Portland facility.

Eimskip’s arrival in 2013 spurred the LePage administration to invest heavily in the state’s only container terminal. Last spring, the state paid $7.2 million for 18 acres of industrial waterfront land and is now paying Shaw Brothers Construction of Gorham $8.6 million to expand the terminal west of the Casco Bay Bridge and connect it with an existing rail line

The expansion, scheduled to be completed this summer, will allow for containers to be moved between ships and rail cars. Pan Am Railways, which serves the city’s waterfront, connects with national railroads.

Eimskip announced the new schedule on its website. Explaining the changes to its customers, the company said the move will make shipments between Europe and North America more reliable. In the past, connections between the company’s different sailing routes were sometimes jeopardized, mainly due to bad weather conditions, the company said.

The new schedule calls for ships from Portland to make three stops in Iceland and then Immingham, England, before traveling to their final destination, Rotterdam, Netherlands. Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe. There will be seasonal calls to Sortland, Noway. Containers can be transferred to other Eimskip vessels that call on other ports in Northern Europe, from Murmansk, Russia, to Hamburg, Germany.


Correction: This story was updated at 1:34 p.m. Jan. 30, 2015, to reflect that Eimskip will maintain its current schedule of ship calls to Portland of every two weeks. However, it will be adding five vessel calls on the off week distributed evenly throughout the year. The additional calls represent a nearly 20 percent increase in ship calls annually, from 26 to 31.