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New Carrier makes First Call in Portland

by Alex Pulaski
The Oregonian, May 15, 2006

Zim drops Seattle for the River City,
boosting hopes that container movement will spur the Oregon economy

The vessel Zim USA tied up at Terminal 6 at 7:24 a.m. Sunday, symbolically connecting the Port of Portland with its first new container carrier since two lines pulled out in late 2004.

The first of the rust-red, green and blue boxes was unloaded shortly after. Container ZCSU8224434 left the ship empty, but the Port is hoping that the movement of hundreds of full containers -- electronics or clothing coming from China, seafood or hay exported from Oregon -- will spur the state's economy and provide 100 to 200 new jobs.

The metal boxes and the ships that carry them serve as the link between U.S. consumers and Asia. Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd.'s first call in Portland has also opened new opportunities for trade to and from the Mediterranean.

Israel-based Zim left its previous only U.S. stop -- Seattle -- in favor of Portland. The steamship line uses 13 mid-size vessels that travel to ports on the West Coast, in Asia and the Mediterranean, making weekly stops.

Another trans-Pacific carrier, Taiwan-based Yang Ming, is expected to begin calling in Portland next month. At that point, the Port will have three such services for the first time since 2004.

Greg Borossay, the Port's general manager for liner development, figures he logged more than 200,000 miles -- about eight full trips around the globe -- courting lines to come to Portland. It was a tough sell because Oregon is a smaller market and ships face a 110-mile journey up the Columbia River.

The container business is red-hot, and most lines -- including those that left Portland -- have chosen to concentrate their efforts on large-scale ports in Southern California and Puget Sound or add new stops in China.

Zim saw a chance to tap into an underserved market and potentially establish fast and smooth rail connections to the Midwest.

On Sunday, Borossay lifted a glass of Merlot -- bottled in Israel -- to Capt. Shalom Cohen, bidding him and Zim welcome.

Cohen responded with the traditional Hebrew toast: L'chaim -- to life.

Borossay said more carrier lines with connections to new ports translates into greater export opportunities for Oregon businesses and farms, as well as serving to keep down shipping rates.

The new lines also bode well for the Port, which cut 10 percent of its staff to save expenses in the wake of the two carriers departing in 2004.

Port container revenue hit $41.5 million in 2003-04. The two new services aren't expected to restore revenue to those levels, but the Port has projected receiving $34.4 million from container movement in the next fiscal year -- about $11 million more than with just its existing Asia service from Hanjin Shipping.

Zim sees the Portland area as a nearly untapped market, said Tom Keen, the company's senior vice president of sales and marketing. Many shippers, he said, will be able to weigh transportation options outside Puget Sound as Zim and, later, Yang Ming add Portland calls.

"We think the local market has been driven to leave Portland just because of the lack of service," Keen said.

The added service could in turn drive construction of distribution centers here, creating an ever-widening circle of demand.

"We see the opportunities in Portland as pretty much endless," Keen said.

Alex Pulaski
New Carrier makes First Call in Portland
The Oregonian, May 15, 2006

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