San Francisco maritime celebration commemorates carrier’s first sailing

Global container shipping leader APL turned 160 years old Oct. 6. The carrier’s year-long anniversary observance climaxed at a celebration on the San Francisco waterfront where APL first made maritime history during California’s Gold Rush.

The company was honored by the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association at the association’s ninth annual Maritime Heritage Awards. Civic, government and maritime leaders joined in the celebration.

“Our first ship sailed from New York for San Francisco on Oct. 6, 1848,” pointed out Ron Widdows, CEO of APL’s parent company, Neptune Orient Lines, Ltd (NOL). “One-hundred-sixty years later it’s my privilege to wish happy anniversary to the men and women of APL who keep us at the forefront of the shipping industry - and to thank the customers and business partners who support us so well.”

Starting in 1848 as the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, APL has a long history of industry firsts, said Widdows. It includes:

  • The first rail line across Panama - a precursor to the Panama Canal;
  • The first regularly scheduled trans-Pacific service;
  • The first post-Panamax vessels, which drove trade to the US West Coast;
  • The first widespread use of double-stack rail cars, developed by APL;
  • The first 45-, 48- and 53-foot ocean containers; and
  • The first day-definite, guaranteed delivery of US import cargo.

That history of innovation has been celebrated throughout the anniversary year of 2008 at APL events in Asia, North America and Europe. The Maritime National Park Association tribute at Fort Mason on San Francisco Bay will be a fitting conclusion.

APL’s predecessor company began life as a US West Coast mail carrier during the California Gold Rush. In 1867 the world was brought closer together when the carrier launched the first regularly scheduled ocean service between San Francisco, Yokohama and Hong Kong. This legacy led to APL’s leadership in the trans-Pacific today.

APL currently operates 15 regularly scheduled services connecting Asia with the US Ten of those services call at West Coast ports in California and Seattle. Five others reach the East Coast through the Panama and Suez canals.

While APL’s roots are in the US, it has become a global organization with operations in the world’s major trade lanes. The 1997 merger of APL with Singapore-based NOL created a world-scale business, which today operates not only a global container shipping company, but also a global top-10 Terminals business and the APL Logistics supply chain services unit.

Perhaps APL’s biggest influence in the past 30 years has been in shaping trade between Asia and the US.

In 1979, APL was the first shipping line to establish dedicated train service linking port cities with the interior of the US Train and vessel schedules were coordinated, resulting in a dramatic improvement in transit time and reliability for APL customers. This was the advent of intermodalism.

In 1980, APL inaugurated Linertrain - its own system of inland rail terminals and leased railcars operating on predetermined schedules. It was the solution to the problem of giving customers reliable service not just port-to-port, but to their store doors.

By 1984, the company was developing Stacktrain technology. The breakthrough doubled train capacity by stacking containers, two high on specially designed railcars. It was the final piece of the intermodal equation.

Stacktrain resulted in the precise integration of domestic and international shipments. It hastened the shift in the world’s trade axis toward Asia. Importers could ship cargo from Asia to the US West Coast, then efficiently transport it east via the railroad.

The shift in trade patterns was emphasized by APL’s announcement in 1986 that its next generation of ships would be post-Panamax vessels - those too large to pass through the Panama Canal.

In 1988, APL took delivery on the fi