Over 1,300 calls, 400,000 boxes handled, and still counting as MSC celebrates two decades of calls at the Port of Boston

By George Lauriat, Editor-in-Chief, AJOT

Two decades is a lot of years for a steamship line to be calling at a port. More often, the business of liner shipping and port management is too rambunctious, and full of change, to support such constancy.

Yet for two decades, Mediterranean Shipping Company ships have been calling at Massport’s facilities in the Port of Boston. On September 25th 1986, the Calf Star berthed at Moran Terminal and discharged 27 boxes and loaded nine boxes for export. The total moves amounted to 54 teus. Since that first call, MSC ships have berthed nearly 1,300 times and loaded and discharged well over 400,00 boxes.

The decision to call at the Port of Boston reflects a great deal about the independent business acumen that MSC has exhibited over the past thirty-six years. In 1970, 30-year old Captain Gianluigi Aponte, founder and Chairman of MSC, purchased a small ‘tween-decker and began business tramping. Almost immediately, the company began expanding their services. In 1973, the company began a monthly liner service between the Med and East Africa via Cape Town. Four years later, they started a container service between northern Europe and southern Africa. In 1984, they added eastern Africa. The next year, MSC took a major step by inaugurating a Europe- East Coast US service.

In 1989 MSC expanded to South Africa and Australia. By the mid-1990s, MSC had services linking South Africa the US East Coast, northern Europe and the Australia trade lanes. In 1993, MSC ventured into the West Coast of South America from northern Europe. Three years later, the company plied its services from Northern Europe to the Middle East and Asia. By 1997, Med Shipping had established itself in the trade lanes of the US East Coast and East Coast of South America and between Australia and Asia.

The Port of Boston call was part of the company’s early expansion to the US East Coast. According to Massport retiree Frank Sheehan, who at the time was head of marketing and sales for Massport’s maritime division, there was serendipity involved in the initial contact between MSC and Massport.

Sheehan was in Europe looking for a new carrier to entice for a direct call at the Port. It was a Friday, and Sheehan was due to fly out on Saturday, and so far the trip had been unproductive. In a an effort to salvage something from the trip, Sheehan looked in the Geneva phone book and saw a listing for Mediterranean Shipping Co. He knew very little about the company beyond the fact that they did some slot charters with TFL (Trans Freight Lines). He decided to try a cold call. His call was directed to MSC’s marketing director, Capt. Pasquale Forminsano, and a meeting was set up with the owner, Captain Aponte. At the meeting Sheehan outlined the New England market and the Port of Boston’s position. There was little to hint as a result of the initial meeting that a Port of Boston direct call would evolve into two decades of continuous service.

Sheehan says he was immediately impressed with MSC’s approach to regional markets. The company had a strong track record for coming into niche markets and dominating these regional markets, and in turn linking them with new services. The Port of Boston direct call was a visible extension of this philosophy.

As Captain Nicola Arena, chairman and CEO of Mediterranean Shipping Company (USA) Inc., (the US based subsidiary of MSC) would later explain, ‘MSC achieved that market penetration with weekly services to each of their hub ports, calling on each port the same day every week, if possible.’ At that time, MSC’s relatively small and flexible fleet of ships fit into the equation quite well. The company has traditionally offered well-balanced services in both the East-West and North-South trade lanes.

In the 1980s, Me