Port Authorities Laud Cleveland-Antwerp Shipping Route For Growth

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By ideastream’s Brian Bull

A Port of Cleveland official says a trans-Atlantic shipping route between Cleveland and Antwerp, Belgium, has grown substantially since it launched last year. 

When the Fortunagracht first docked in Cleveland in April 2014, there was a meager amount of cargo for it to transport to Europe, including some machinery, beer, and a school bus.  Later that same year, the Port of Cleveland acknowledged that the service had lost nearly $3 million.

“We’ve turned around to the point where we’re not seeing as big as a loss,” says David Gutheil, the Port’s Vice President of Maritime and Logistics. He says since that time, they’ve handed over operational costs to their European partner, the Spliethoff Group, and added a second vessel.  He says overall cargo is up 300 percent compared to last year.

“There are still ports on the east coast who have daily vessel calls,” continues Gutheil. “And that’s really where our competition is. So to be able to get to a once a week vessel call on the service is really where we need to be moving forward.  That will get us a lot more business in the container trade. The plan and the goal for next year is to try and get as close to a weekly sailing as we can, if not maybe three times a month.”

Right now cargo ships run every two weeks between Cleveland and Antwerp, Belgium.

Gutheil says the Port has invested nearly $6 million for new cranes to help modernize and accommodate the growing service. 

Port and Spliethoff Group authorities say they are also heavily marketing the Cleveland-Antwerp service to potential customers across the U.S. and Europe.  Gutheil says the Port invested about $ 2.5 million in the trans-Atlantic route this year, and hopes that they’ll eventually have weekly service to Europe if they can convince more manufacturers and companies to use it. 

The service has helped generate port traffic considerably.  Operators at the Port of Cleveland say cargo volumes remain higher than 2014, despite a slowdown in the world steel market. Gutheil says international cargo leaving the port has increased by about 12 percent thanks in part to growing interest in the Antwerp-to-Cleveland shipping route.

“We should see our last vessel in either the end of the week before Christmas, or the week of Christmas, “ says Gutheil.  “The seaway officially closes at midnight on December 29th, so all the international vessels have to be out of the system by midnight on December 29th.  The last Spliethoff vessel should be in right around December 20th as it stands right now.”

That’s because the shipping season is winding down across the Great Lakes.  In just over a month, cargo operations will shut down until March 2016.

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