China Ocean Shipping Co. this week will change its all-water China-to-New York service to call first in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The eight ships in the all-water string, which now make their only West Coast stop in Long Beach, will begin making calls in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seattle, Cosco officials said.That will put cargo from Yokohama just 11 to 12 days from railyards in Vancouver and Seattle.

Robert Krekel, general manager at Cosco North America in Secaucus, N.J., said the Chinese state line decided on the new route in an effort to make Cosco more competitive with larger lines which operate one string of ships to California and a second string in the Pacific Northwest.

The stopovers at Vancouver and Seattle will take place only on the eastbound leg of each all-water voyage, he said.

Cosco will not change port calls by its separate West Coast string of ships. That service uses six larger vessels with a rotation that calls first at Long Beach, then continues north to San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver.

Under the new arrangement, Cosco ships from both the New York string and the West Coast string will call Seattle and Vancouver.

Mr. Krekel said the new route will provide greater frequency and more space for cargo bound for the Pacific Northwest and will give intermodal shippers an alternative method to move containers onto double-stack trains headed inland.

Cosco expects most intermodal traffic to continue to pass through Southern California, but the new direct run to the Pacific Northwest offers shippers and consignees the option of moving their boxes over that route, Mr. Krekel said.

Patrick Reid, chairman of Vancouver Port Corp., and Norman Stark, the port's general manager, each were optimistic about developing Vancouver as an additional intermodal gateway.

The Vancouver port is studying the feasibility of building a major new container terminal and intermodal rail center at Roberts Bank, a port-created landfill just north of the U.S. border.

Mr. Stark noted that Vancouver last month also convinced a consortium of European lines to make the city their first port of call in the Pacific Northwest.

Lines in the group include Hapag-Lloyd AG, Atlantic Container Line, Compagnie Generale Maritime et Financiere and Nedlloyd Lines.

"We're very encouraged by the response to the combined efforts of the terminal operators and the port corporation's initiative," Mr. Stark said.

The port currently offers reduced fees to lines that make Vancouver their first stop.

Mr. Krekel said Cosco was not as swayed by port inducements as it was by an effort to devise a schedule that "does the things the customer needs."

"To meet the competition, we have to be willing to find a way to go up against the big carriers that have double-loop services, with one loop to California and one to the Pacific Northwest," he said. "That's what we're doing."

Port executives in Seattle and Tacoma acknowledge that Vancouver eventually could become a strong competitor if it builds efficient container terminals and railyards, but remain skeptical of the amount of intermodal cargo the Canadian port will be able to divert from Puget Sound in the near term.

Demand for intermodal cargo bound for eastern Canada is much smaller than it is in the United States, and the current Canadian rail system does not make it easy for trains from Vancouver to move onto U.S. tracks, one Port of Tacoma planner said.

He questioned whether the Canadian port would be able to divert much cargo

from Puget Sound even as a first port of call, particularly when the same Cosco ship calling Vancouver will call just one day later in Seattle.

But Dennis McLennan, president of Norton Lilly International (Canada) Ltd., said Cosco's agents in Vancouver believe the new position in the port rotation and the reduced transit times will make a difference.

Mr. McLennan announced plans for the changes in a statement headlined "Cosco - Vancouver First."

He said the new route is due to begin Wednesday with the sailing of the Yi He. Cosco will offer trips every 10 days, using five ships capable of handling 1,700 20-foot equivalent containers (TEUs) and three 1,400-TEU container ships.

Cosco's main West Coast route, with six 2,750-TEU ships calling in Long Beach, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, will be unaffected, he said.