International container feeder service launched between Boston and Halifax

New York-based American Feeder Lines (AFL) has inaugurated weekly container service linking Halifax, Nova Scotia; Portland, Maine; and Boston.

AFL, a start-up company, has said it intends to create a true short-sea shipping company that would move U.S. domestic cargo aboard U.S.-flag ships between U.S. ports. On the AFL website the company states its mission: "Our thesis is simple: Build, own, and operate the first fully compliant Jones Act Short Sea/Feedering container liner service in the United States."

While the Halifax-Boston route has been described as the first link in such a true coastwise cargo service, so far it is simply a traditional feeder service handling international cargo on a foreign-flag vessel. AFL has chartered a small German-owned, British-flag containership, which it is operating under the name AFL New England.

The new feeder service began operating in July 2011 and follows in the wake of the former Yankee Clipper, which was operated by Hapag-Lloyd and served the same three ports. The Halifax-Boston service also shares the same leadership. Rudy Mack, AFL's chief operating officer, is the former president of Hapag-Lloyd's operations in the Americas.

AFL has yet to employ a U.S.-flag vessel in its fleet. While letters of intent to build 10 Jones Act-compliant vessels are in place with two shipyards, financing for the project has yet to be solidified. Mack hopes that once the vessels are built, the service will expand to include New York, New Jersey and mid-Atlantic ports. Further expansion would include Southeastern and Gulf ports. For now AFL is limited to international transshipment cargo.

Mack said that the start-up has been slow but steady with regular shipments from Maine-based companies such as L.L. Bean, and White Rock Distilleries, and wood pulp from Massachusetts-based International Forest Products. The vessel also carries fish and shellfish products to and from Boston shippers.

According to John Hudson of Atlantic Maritime Transit Agency, AFL's Boston agent, AFL New England's cargo has been steadily increasing with inbound containers of garments, consumer goods and footwear and outbound shipments of paper and forest products. He said that a feeder service such as AFL offers is not only an economical alternative to truck and rail, but also integrates well with truck and rail and is overall a "greener way to do things."

Patrick Arnold of the Maine Port Authority is also excited about the port's partnership with AFL. He said that infrastructure improvements to the port will help move shipping operation like AFL's forward.

By Professional Mariner Staff