Shipping containers are moved at the International Marine Terminal in Portland on Thursday.  Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

After nearly a decade of double-digit growth, Portland’s shipping boom appears to be leveling off.

The city’s International Marine Terminal closed out yet another record-breaking year in 2023 with roughly 44,000 20-foot-equivalent shipping containers crossing the dock.

But that’s only about a 1.5% increase from the prior year, far more modest than the roughly 25% growth that was seen annually since 2013, when Eimskip, the port’s only container company, began calling on Portland.

Matthew Burns, executive director of Maine Port Authority, said the market returned to normal in 2023 following a pandemic-driven boom in the shipping industry.

“COVID was a major speed bump for the industry,” he said.

During the height of the pandemic, demand for shipping skyrocketed and companies could essentially name their prices. Now, the market has begun to correct itself and shipping companies have to be more judicious with their pricing to compete in what Burns said is a “cutthroat” industry.


“We did fine, but we didn’t have a banner year of growth,” he said.

Imports dipped 2.4% last year, while exports increased by 5.5%, according to data from the Maine Port Authority.

However, the value of both imports and exports increased by double digits. According to data from the Maine International Trade Center, the value of exports increased by almost 29% and imports by almost 11% between October 2022 and October 2023. Full-year data for 2023 is not yet available.

Officials say they’re pleased with any increases, especially as larger, surrounding ports have seen year-over-year declines and face an uncertain future following a series of attacks in the Red Sea. The attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen caused shipping giants Maersk, CMA CGM and COSCO to reroute shipments around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, creating delays and increased prices for shippers and consumers, the Washington Post reported. Previously, those companies used the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean.

But because Icelandic-based Eimskip exclusively operates a transatlantic line, Maine has been largely unaffected, Burns said.

There could be some ripple effects related to congestion in other ports or increased prices industry-wide, but it’s too soon to say what or when that might be.


Gylfi Sigfússon, president and CEO of Eimskip North America, said he’s optimistic for continued growth in 2024 – he predicted between 5% and 7% – with the anticipated completion of the $55 million 107,000-square-foot cold storage facility. In November, Portland received $14 million in federal funding to increase the number of electrical outlets needed to power the refrigerated containers, as well as the construction of storage racks, new lighting and other improvements.

“It has been good for us to be able to settle down a little and look ahead,” Sigfússon said, adding that the company is working on a new 10-year plan.

Burns also is confident that things will start to pick up in the next few years as long as both players continue doing their part.

“Eimskip’s job in this relationship is to bring the freight and they’ve always done that,” he said. “Our job is to bring the infrastructure, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Shipping containers are moved at Eimskip in Portland on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Eimskip has been working to grow trade further by steadily increasing the number and size of vessels that operate on its Transatlantic Green Line service. The company’s ships call on Portland once a week.

Until last fall, Portland was at the end of a line that included stops in Atlantic Canada and Iceland, with connections to northern Europe and Asia.



But Sigfússon said Thursday that as Portland has become more important, and to accommodate an increase in fresh salmon imports, the company reversed the line and now stops at Portland first.

Aside from the fresh salmon, Sigfússon said spring water, frozen fish and machinery were among the top imports to Portland last year.

Medical instruments, industrial machinery, arms and ammunition, meat, and prepared vegetables and fruits were among the most valuable exports.

Contributing to Eimskip’s projected growth is an increasing eye toward sustainability. Producers are starting to look at their environmental footprints, and shipping via the ocean rather than by air is more carbon efficient and produces fewer emissions, Sigfússon said.

Burns said that with the construction of the new cold storage facility, Portland will be able to specialize in refrigerated cargo and compete with larger ports like Boston.

The terminal currently covers roughly 21 acres, and there are an additional 6 acres that can be developed for cold storage. Beyond that, the port authority hopes to brainstorm some creative terminal layout and increase stacking capabilities to accommodate more volume and larger ships.

“We have to work with what we’ve got,” Burns said.

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