PORTLAND – The city’s on-again, off-again cargo shipping service will resume in March with the arrival of Iceland’s Eimskip.

The city has been without a contracted cargo service for nearly a year, since the New York-based American Feeder Lines suspended operations and closed in April, citing a lack of volume and loss of private investment.

At the time, Portland’s International Marine Terminal was in the midst of a $5 million, federally funded renovation and expansion. That project was completed last summer.

Those renovations, as well as links to Pan Am Railways’ train lines and the city’s culture, helped bring Eimskip to Portland from its location in Norfolk, Va.

“New England was an area where we wanted to have a bigger presence,” said Larus Isfeld, Eimskip’s general manager. “All of the infrastructure was pretty much in place here. But the biggest factor that drove us here was the culture and the people.

“We know cold winters. We know snow. We know the heritage of the seafood industry. There’s something about the Scandinavian heritage, something that made us feel good about being here,” Isfeld said.

Eimskip would not say how many jobs will be created by its presence, or the direct economic benefit. About a dozen longshoremen will unload cargo from Eimskip vessels every two weeks.

Eimskip signed a five-year lease on a 6,000-square-foot warehouse at the terminal, but the terms of the lease were not disclosed. The date for the start of operations has yet to be finalized, Isfeld said.

Eimskip aims to start small in Portland so it will not immediately move its 20-person operation out of Norfolk.

“We will build here over time. We have to get operational,” Isfeld said.

The move to Portland will help Eimskip cut its shipping time to northern Europe. The company operates 17 vessels in the North Atlantic.

Portland won over other ports that Eimskip considered, including Davisville, R.I. Eimskip also considered expanding its facility in Everett, Mass., but ultimately chose Portland because of the terminal’s infrastructure.

Eimskip, at least in name, has been in Portland in the past. It operated a cargo transport service between Portland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, but stopped it at the end of 2007 because of financial problems.

In 2008, Eimskip started an operational and financial reorganization and sold off businesses outside its core focus, according to its website. In 2009, a reorganized Eimskip started operating with a new board and new investors.

Isfeld said Eimskip has transported about 5,000 containers a year through Norfolk, Va. They will now go through Portland.

The International Marine Terminal will link with Pan Am Railways to allow cargo to be transported across North America.

“Without their connection to the U.S. and willingness to work with us, this might not have happened,” Isfeld said of Pan Am.

Eimskip will bring fish from Norway and products from other northern European markets. Exports from across the U.S. will gain a direct link and cost-effective access to new European markets.

Eimskip serves ports such as Rotterdam, Hamburg, Reykjavik, Helsingborg, Sweden and Immingham, England, Isfeld said.

Portland did not put “any money on the table” to lure Eimskip to the city, said Mayor Michael Brennan.

“There’s any number of different sound bites you could use — transformative. Game changer. Visionary,” Brennan said. “What’s happening today to have a major business come to Portland is visionary. This builds on our heritage and solidifies our heritage as a port town.”

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

[email protected]