The AFL New England made its inaugural call at Boston on July 19, officially kicking off the vessel’s Halifax-Portland, Maine-Boston service, the first stage of a marine highway network American Feeder Lines hopes to build along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
It took awhile to get to Boston. AFL acquired its vessel in May and planned to launch service in the second quarter of the year. Although glitches pushed the startup into July, CEO Rudy Mack is upbeat. “They are starting to come in, not by the hundreds so far. It’s customer by customer,” Mack said.
The AFL New England was carrying less than 10 percent of its capacity for 700 20-foot equivalent container units when it called at Boston, but the company didn’t expect a full ship at first. Mack said the company has contracts with two carriers and is lining up several more to distribute loaded containers and position empties from Halifax to Portland and Boston.
“Portland is always a port where you have to position containers, full containers for L.L. Bean and other customers, or empty containers so export cargo can go out,” Mack said.
Paper pulp and rolls will be a major part of the export business. Moving containers of paper products coastwise from Maine to Boston gives shippers tangible savings over truck transport, AFL Chairman Percy R. Pyne IV told this month’s meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Boston.
Mack, former CEO of container shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, said he expects that business to grow, to the point that AFL plans to put a second ship on the route next year.
Other companies have tried the Boston-Portland-Halifax triangle, including Hapag-Lloyd, but Mack said AFL is patient. “To do this, you have to have a certain kind of financial patience: Don’t put in the service and expect everyone around to fill the ship immediately,” Mack said. The company has to show its staying power. “We have to build a certain amount of credibility, and that’s what we are doing.
“People are very careful. Even if they use a route that’s slightly less reliable and more expensive, they grow used to it. We have to convince them to change,” Mack said. “Once the trade has gotten used to it, I think that this service will not only be full, I think it will be profitable.”
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