The arrival of Eimskip in Portland has prompted Maine to look north, triggering its desire to become an Arctic force, but Maine’s proximity to the icy region had nothing to do with the company’s decision to make Maine its American port of call.

When deciding to establish operations in Maine, Eimskip thought about a lot of things, such as the likelihood of port improvements, political cooperation, and the cultural similarities between Portland and its Icelandic homeland.

But Portland’s proximity to the Arctic wasn’t among the considerations.

“A businessman must think about right now, next year, five years out maybe,” said Larus Isfeld, managing director of Eimskip USA. “I can’t build a business around what might happen 20 or 50 years from now. Too many things can change.”

Some people in Maine believe melting sea ice could one day turn Portland into America’s Arctic port of the East. But scientists say it could take decades before the ice melts enough for the shipping lanes atop Russia and Canada to open for commercial shipping.

While the Arctic routes may capture the imagination, Eimskip’s 2013 arrival in Portland gave Maine direct, every-other-week access to the decidedly open North Atlantic markets, including a direct line to Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port.

Eimskip has repeatedly come up during the public programs connected to the Arctic Council’s meeting of senior officials in Portland this week, cited as a driving force behind increased trade, tourism and academic connections to the North Atlantic.

The Eimskip ports in Newfoundland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Iceland and north Norway give Maine businesses access to a population about the size of Maine, Isfeld said. But unlike Maine, these island communities import almost everything they consume, he said.

“You can look at these home markets of Eimskip as doubling the local market,” Isfeld said. “It can give a small Maine business a start in international markets. And these are markets that rely on shipping for everything, from household goods to building materials to groceries.”

Through Iceland, a Maine business gains access to the 330 million people who live in northern Europe, Isfeld said. Through Rotterdam, which is at the end of the Eimskip line serving Portland, a Maine manufacturer gains access to the 660 million people of Europe.

Through Portland, Eimskip’s home ports gain easy access to New England. Through trucks and rail, which was recently brought back into the International Marine Terminal, and the addition of hookups to power refrigerated containers, their goods can fan out across the United States.

Before it came here, Eimskip based its American operations out of Norfolk, Virginia, where it had a contract to move cargo from the naval station there to a U.S. naval station in Keflavik, Iceland. When that contract ended, Eimskip began looking for a new home.

Portland had several things going for it, Eimskip officials say.

Its location cut down the amount of time it took to reach the North American market – the trip can be made in five days now, but it can take as long as nine days, depending on the cargo and number of stops it makes – which cuts costs.

Atlantic fish such as cod are in big demand in New England, not just as a consumer product, but also by the seafood processors that remain in operation here but are in need of the raw materials that fishing fleets in the North Atlantic still land, officials said.

When considering Portland as its port of call, Eimskip asked Maine for three things, Isfeld said: port improvements, an office dedicated to promoting trade with the North Atlantic, and an open-door policy with the governor’s office.

Maine has come through on all fronts, Isfeld said.

The Maine Port Authority has turned the formerly derelict International Marine Terminal into a first-class small port, with refrigeration capability, a rail connection and a large crane, and it struck a deal with a private company that wants to build a refrigerated warehouse.

Gov. Paul LePage has met with any potential exporter Eimskip sent his way, and created the Maine North Atlantic Development Office, which helps forge trade connections, led trade missions to Iceland and Scandinavia and landed this week’s Arctic Council meeting.

In one of a series of meetings that have occurred since Eimskip came to Portland, the president of Iceland urged Maine to become a bigger player in Arctic affairs as a way to deepen the ties between Maine and the nations of the North Atlantic.

Since Eimskip’s arrival, the International Marine Terminal has seen its cargo volume increase 25 percent a year. In 2015, cargo shipments hit 105,523 metric tons, up from 7,400 metric tons in 2011, according to the Maine International Trade Center.

“Before Eimskip, we weren’t thinking about Iceland or Scandinavia, much less the Arctic,” Maine Port Authority Director John Henshaw said. “We didn’t even have a waterborne service. When we took over, the city stored towed cars and winter snow here. But that’s all changed.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

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