Managing Partner Marc Krantz is quoted in a Plain Dealer article titled, “Port of Cleveland seals deal to bring container shipping to the Great Lakes.”
“Here come the Dutch.
The board of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority today approved an agreement with a Dutch shipping giant that will commence an era of cargo runs between Cleveland and northern Europe.
The Cleveland-Europe Express will become the first regularly scheduled container service on the Great Lakes upon its maiden voygage in March, when the Saint Lawrence Seaway opens for a new season.
Dutch shipping executives were at the board meeting at the Aloft hotel in the Flats to witness the historic vote and to see their new port of call.
Bart Peters, director of the Atlantic Ocean department of the Spliethoff Group of Amsterdam, the Netherland’s largest shipper, said his company has for years eyed the Great Lakes and the potential of the Seaway. He said the partnership with the Port of Cleveland will enable it to reach Midwestern markets more directly than any other world shipper.
“We are feeling a bit like a kid in a candy store,” he said in conference rooms with window views of the lakefront. “This lake is empty, while you have the Heartland of America right here at your doorstep. We will open this city to the world.”
Plans call for Seaway-class Dutch container ships to make monthly sails, initially, between Cleveland and Antwerp, Belgium. Traffic could increase to two ships monthly if the port nears its goal of capturing 10 to 15 percent of Ohio goods now exported through East Coast ports.
The port hopes to gain that trade by offering a faster, cheaper, greener route to Europe, in part, by allowing manufacturers to avoid moving goods to the coast by truck and rail.
With an agreement signed, port officials can now start quoting rates to shippers and their agents. Those first customers may take some time signing up.
Both Peters and port officials acknowledged many will be leery of changing established and trusty shipping patterns.
“Nobody wants to be the first,” and risk their cargo getting stuck somewhere, Peters said.
His company pioneered a similar cargo service between Belgium and Spain, he said, and it took about two years for that route to become profitable. Peters said he expects a similar growth trajectory for the Cleveland-Europe Express.
According to the agreement, the port authority will lease ships from the Spliethoff Group, which will staff and sail the vessels. The port will also pay fuel costs, pushing its outlay close to $850,000 monthly.
Revenues are expected to grow to cover an increasing portion of expenses and the port projects breaking even by the end of the first season.
“We realized this was a risk going into this,” said port chairman Marc Krantz. “Frankly, we see the greater risk not going ahead.”
The new link to Europe will help Ohio manufacturers compete in the global economy, grow their businesses and maybe create jobs, Krantz said. By not acting, he said, the port would fail to leverage its ability to connect local companies to world markets.
Port officials envision Cleveland becoming a cargo hub for Midwest manufacturers far and wide.
They project hundreds of new jobs in and around the docks and a more robust regional economy.
Peters described the port’s venture as brave but smart. Cleveland is the first major port on the Great Lakes for ships traversing the Seaway, he noted. Its docks are connected to major rail lines that run coast to coast.
The main obstacle to ocean shipping via the Great Lakes has long been the Seaway locks, which are too small for the huge container ships that carry world trade. That’s why most of the ships calling on the Port of Cleveland are lakers moving bulk cargo around the lakes.
The Spliethoff Group has been investing in new, Seaway-sized freighters that can carry an array of goods, from potatoes to steel, Peters said. The Port of Cleveland offers a chance to put them to pioneering use.
This spring, he said, Clevelanders will see a new sight in their harbor: an ocean freighter with shipping containers stacked high on deck.
“It’s a great, wide-open area here to get us into the Heartland of America,” he said. “We see the potential.””