CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Port of Cleveland plans to offer direct, scheduled freight service to ports in northern Europe starting in April in a move aimed at providing more efficient shipping for manufacturers and an economic boost for the region.
The Cleveland-Europe Express announced this week would provide the only scheduled international container service on the Great Lakes, enabling businesses to ship goods faster and save money by skipping East Coast stops, port officials said.
The service, via the Saint Lawrence Seaway, would run monthly with the possibility of two trips a month between March and December during the shipping season.
That is expected to be a more reliable schedule for businesses than the "spot shipping" currently offered by the port when space happens to be available on ships, The Plain Dealer reported.
"It's cheaper, it's faster, it's greener and it's competitive," said Joe Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership economic development organization, according to the newspaper.
Officials estimate the service annually will haul hundreds of tons of cargo, such as industrial and consumer products, scrap metal and automotive equipment.
The plan is for an Amsterdam-based company, the Spliethoff Group, to provide the ships under the deal, which is in final negotiations but hasn't been set.
The Port of Cleveland would charter the ships, handle the cargo loading and aim to make a profit -- and possibly add jobs -- by charging exports and importers, but it wouldn't subsidize the service or invest capital.
The Great Lakes used to have scheduled cargo service decades ago, but that business shifted to container shipping on giant ocean freighters. The newspaper said tolls and the seaway's winter closure have deterred private shippers from offering such service on the Great Lakes.
"The big players in the Great Lakes have looked at it and they're not sure it can happen profitless, so for another vendor to come in and think they can create a better wheel, we'll see," Tom Gierszal of Columbus Shipping and Trading, a firm connecting companies and shipping lines, told WKYC-TV.
Port officials acknowledge it's a business risk.
Chris Ronayne, the vice chairman of the port's board, told The Plain Dealer the proposal would let the port opt out with a month or two of notice.
"We're a public agency making a calculated assessment," Ronayne said. "This is opening a door in Cleveland to the world."
The announcement comes as the port authority seeks voter approval for a levy on next month's ballot.