PORTLAND – Container shipping service connecting Portland, Boston and Halifax, Nova Scotia, is expected to resume within a week, a Maine official said Wednesday.

The new service is being launched by American Feeder Lines, a New York-based shipping company that hopes to build a spoke-and-hub container system along the East and Gulf coasts, similar to the route systems that airlines run.

The Portland-Boston-Halifax service is the first leg of that system to go into operation, said John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority.

Henshaw said American Feeder Lines agreed quickly to operate the service, deciding within two weeks of a meeting with Henshaw earlier this year. The first container carrier ship tied up at Portland’s International Marine Terminal earlier this month while company officials lined up clients.

Portland was served by container ships until 2007 and by a barge that carried containers — most loaded with pulp bound for paper mills elsewhere — to New York until 2009. Henshaw said his office has been searching for a replacement service since the barge service pulled out.

Henshaw said Maine will be in the spotlight, with one of the first ports involved in what he hopes will be a revival of a shipping network up and down the coast.

“Maine is going to play a leadership role on the national stage in coastal shipping,” he said. “And our ambition is not to stop at this one ship, but to have other routes.”

Containers are a popular shipping option because they allow companies to load containers and then move them by rail, truck or ship.

Henshaw said the Halifax connection is key because large container ships that are being built need particularly deep water. Currently, only Halifax and Hampton Roads, Va., have harbors that are deep enough, with Miami dredging its port to accommodate the bigger ships.

L.L. Bean is among the companies that are looking at the new option for moving products, said Carolyn Beem, a spokeswoman for the company. She said the company is still assessing prices and scheduling, but is interested in the service and wants to support greater use of the port of Portland.

Now, all of the items that Bean receives in containers are trucked from New York and elsewhere to Maine.

The resumption of cargo service means the return of about 18 to 20 jobs that were lost when the barge stopped operating, said Jack Humeniuk, business agent for Longshoremen’s International local 861.

He said the resumption of container service could mean many more jobs if American Feeder Lines adds to the one weekly stop in Portland that’s now planned.

He said American Feeder Lines’ role is important because it’s a common carrier.

The previous container service, he said, was exclusive to one shipping line — containers sent via other lines weren’t accepted. American Feeder Lines will carry any container.

“It really ties Maine into the world markets, and that’s the bigger picture,” Humeniuk said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:
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