By Alex Binkley

After a long winter watching the ice pile up on Lake Erie, the Cleveland-Europe Express (CEE) container service from Port of Cleveland to Antwerp is anxious to launch its second season. The service is operated by Dutch carrier The Spliethoff Group in cooperation with the Port. Its inaugural season proved encouraging enough for the company to add a second ship this year.

David Gutheil, the Port’s Vice-President of Maritime & Logistics, says the operation “didn’t come close to breaking even in its first year. We need to achieve more traction in the container shipping sector.” A big challenge was attracting container loads with once a month service, he adds in an interview. The second ship will enable every other week service. “The bookings for our first two west bound sailings are very strong. They’re better than expected. Now if we could only get started.”

While container service on the Lakes has been talked about for years, it was Cleveland and Europe Express that stepped up to the plate with a ship that can carry containers and other cargo. Gutheil says Cleveland is an ideal sport geographically compared to other American Great Lakes ports. “We’re so close to the opening of the Seaway.” There has been talk in the past of container shipping between Europe and Chicago. Gutheil thinks the extra sailing time to reach Chicago from the Seaway would work against such an operation. Now it’s a matter of convincing shippers to overcome their reluctance of trying something new, he points out. “We have to change behaviour. There hasn’t been a service like this before.”

William Friedman, Port President & CEO, says the service is the fastest between Europe and North America’s heartland, allowing regional companies to ship their goods up to four days faster than using water, rail, and truck routes via the U.S. East Coast ports.

With the addition of a second ship, Bart Peters, manager of The Spliethoff Group’s America Service, says shippers will be able “to connect more efficiently to the European continent.” The run began with Fortunagracht. It provided shippers “with customized shipping solutions and faster door-to-door transit times between Europe and the North American heartland,” Peters added.

“We have established the CEE as a legitimate, cost effective alternative for the breakbulk and heavy lift market. With the second ship, we can offer a very attractive option for container shippers. The advantages of an all-water service to the U.S. Midwest, combined with our transshipment connections in Antwerp throughout Europe and the world, make this a very powerful alternative.”

CEE partners have selected C-Port Maritime as their new stevedoring company to handle the ships when they are in Cleveland. C-Port Maritime, a sister operation to Valport, operator of the port of Valleyfield on the St. Lawrence River near Montreal, is now the terminal operator for CEE at the port of Cleveland. “Valport has serviced our ships for many years at the port of Valleyfield in Quebec, so they are an experienced and trusted stevedore,” said Peters.