The Floragracht, a cargo ship operated by the Dutch shipping company Spliethoff Group, docked in the Port of Milwaukee this week and will start the first monthly shipping service from the city in nearly two decades by hauling equipment from Caterpillar Inc.'s South Milwaukee factory.
The sight of the ship and the potential for regular service through the Great Lakes to Europe excites port officials, who tout the Spliethoff’s regularity and flexibility.
“Our mission is to change the way people look at their shipping options,” said Peter Hirthe, a senior trade representative for the Port of Milwaukee.
In recent years, manufacturers and other businesses looking to ship out of the Port of Milwaukee had to charter a single ship and provide a load large enough to make it cost-effective.
Amsterdam, Netherlands-based Spliethoff will carry smaller loads, provide container-carrying capacity and the consistency of regular service. Its stops in Milwaukee are an expansion of the Great Lakes route it started in 2014, the Cleveland Europe Express, which calls on ports in Cleveland, Ohio, Detroit and now Milwaukee.
Spliethoff plans to have at least one cargo ship in Milwaukee every month, and possibly two. The Fagelgracht is scheduled to follow the Floragracht on May 12, with Antwerp, Belgium, as their European destination.
The trip takes two to three weeks.
Ron Vincent, director of logistics for the freight business M.E. Dey & Co. Inc., said Milwaukee has lacked container service out of the Port “to any destination,” which forced exporters to use truck or rail service to Chicago or East Coast ports. Rail congestion has been a growing problem for companies looking to export from the region.
The demand for the Spliethoff service will depend on the timing and pricing, with cost being the ultimate deciding factor, Vincent said.
“For this to be attractive, it would need a savings of 15 percent to 20 percent,” Vincent said.
Spliethoff, one of Europe’s largest shipping companies, has pursued operations in the Great Lakes for several years.
“Milwaukee’s location west of the Chicago rail congestion makes it a very attractive stepping off point for the heavy equipment and machinery manufacturers,” said Torin Swartout, a Spliethoff vice president. “Our service offers through bills of lading to practically anywhere, and our vessels are equipped with heavy cranes, box holds, and are fully fitted for containers both dry and refrigerated.”
The first load out of Milwaukee is mining equipment from the Caterpillar Inc. plant in South Milwaukee.
According to city statistics, 3 million tons of cargo moved through the Port of Milwaukee in 2014, compared with 2.8 million tons in 2010.