By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT

In Jacksonville, Sea Star Line LLC’s ship has come in ’ both literally and metaphorically.

On March 4, to commemorate the entry of a third ship in Sea Star’s US-Puerto Rico rotation, more than 250 people came to the Jacksonville Port Authority’s (JAXPORT) Dames Point cruise terminal for a Saturday morning event that began with mimosa and bloody Mary concoctions and concluded with a stylish luncheon. In between were formal ceremonies, replete with a US Coast Guard color guard and a choir, highlighted by the rechristening of the vessel as El Faro.

Amid the fanfare, with El Faro as a backdrop, Frank Peake, Sea Star’s president and chief operating officer, told the gathering, ‘The addition of El Faro will allow Sea Star to evolve to be the Port of Jacksonville’s largest single customer.’

Jacksonville-based Sea Star already has a significant presence in Northeast Florida, directly employing 200 residents, with an annual payroll of $12.8 million, infusing more than $180 million a year into the local economy.

Indicative of the company’s presence is the fact that Kathi Hyde, wife of Jacksonville City Council President Kevin Hyde, assumed the honor of slinging a champagne bottle to rechristen El Faro, while the city body formally proclaimed the day ’ and all succeeding fourth days of March ’ as Sea Star Day.

Raul Alfonso, JAXPORT’s director of marketing and trade development for Latin America, noted that Sea Star is the first carrier out of Jacksonville to have a day proclaimed in its honor by the city. (The Jacksonville-San Juan trade also is served by self-propelled ships of Trailer Bridge Inc. and tow-barge sets of Crowley Liner Service Inc. and Horizon Lines.)

‘I hope it’s an incentive for the other carriers to do what Sea Star is doing,’ Alfonso said in an interview, adding that recent Sea Star activities also have included an expansion of terminal facilities. ‘They’re doing very well and growing very fast.’

The $7 million reconstruction of El Faro represents a portion of a three-year, $68 million Sea Star reinvestment program that also includes enhancements to equipment and facilities.

El Faro, formerly known as the Northern Lights, already was part of the fleet of Sea Star parent company American Shipping Group Inc. After having toiled in the Alaska trade under the Totem Ocean Trailer Express unit, the ship served for the past three years under military charter in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Like the two vessels it joins in Sea Star’s Puerto Rico service, El Faro originally was built in the mid-1970s at Sun Shipbuilding and Drydock of Chester, PA. While El Morro underwent reconstructions in 1990 and 1996 and El Yunque was reconstructed in 1990 and 1997, the only previous reconstruction for the vessel now known as El Faro was in 1992.

Following modification by Atlantic Marine in Mobile, AL, the fleet addition is now configured similarly to its sister ships, having the per-sailing capacity to carry 600 forty-foot-equivalent container units (FEUs) plus noncontainerized cargoes at a speed of 23 knots. El Faro is nearly 800 feet long, more than 100 feet wide and 137 feet high, from keel to stack.

Peake said in an interview that a key attribute of the addition of El Faro is that Sea Star now will be able to put El Yunque or El Morro into drydock for several weeks during a relatively slow service period and still have two vessels in operation in the lane.

El Yunque currently is slated to enter drydock in June, while El Morro is due for drydocking in December, Peake said. Each of the three ships is to go into drydock once every 30 months or so.

Most significantly, according to Peake, having three vessels will allow the company to enhance service to its customers.

Referring to Sea Star’s reinvestment program, he commented, ‘We do all this with one thing in mind ’ our customers.’

Peake said Sea Star has relied upon four things to propel the company:

  • Stockholders who share firm officials’ vi