Maine joins Alaska in quest for Arctic influence

Mia BennettEye on the Arctic
Iceland and Maine see a mutually beneficial relationship: the most northeastern U.S. state will benefit in that its forestry and fishing products, among other goods, will have new export markets, particularly in Europe. Iceland will reach American markets for its aluminum and other exports. Scott McMurren photo

ANALYSIS: On Thursday, I mentioned in a blog post that Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company, recently moved its North American hub from Norfolk, Virginia to Portland, Maine. This will be the American port’s first direct connection to Europe in 33 years, according to an excellent, fact-filled article in the Press Herald, a local newspaper. Eimskip’s decision is in line with its mission to “provide outstanding transportation services through a dependable transport system in the North Atlantic, as well as offering extensive worldwide network of reefer logistics services.” Eimskip will also open an office and warehouse in Portland. According to the Press Herald, Eimskip has also been in discussions with Pan Am Railways to achieve freight access to North American markets. Pan Am plans to extend its railways 1,500 feet to reach the port, creating much-needed intermodal capabilities. Building on the momentum of the new port activities, Icelandic President Olafur Grímsson will give the keynote presentation at the Maine International Trade Day on May 31.

The move to start calling in the ice-free port of Portland twice a month builds upon Eimskip’s recent opening of services to northern Norway. The company’s Green Line will now connect Portland with Sortland, Norway, not too far from Tromso. That city is home to the new Arctic Council secretariat and a city that’s positioning itself as the “capital of the Arctic.” I sailed through Sortland on the Hurtigruten ferry in January, and it’s a stunning port. It is incredible to think that soon, Maine’s famous lobsters and blueberries could be on people’s plates not only in Tromso, but even Nuuk, Greenland and Murmansk, Russia, other destinations that Eimskip services with its fleet of 17 ships.

The United States’ most northeastern state will benefit in that its forestry and fishing products, among other goods, will have new export markets, particularly in Europe. Iceland will benefit, too, as its resources, such as aluminum exports, will have easier access to North American markets. Those containers bringing Icelandic goods to the U.S. and Canada can then bring back electronic circuits, civilian aircraft, lobsters, and paper pulp – the state’s top four exports in 2012 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Other items that will likely be shipped from Portland include materials needed for Exxon Mobil’s $14 billion oil drilling project off the coast of nearby Newfoundland, Canada, thereby connecting Maine to resource developments up north.

On the other side of the planet, the Rongcheng Shenfei shipyard in China is constructing two container ships for Eimskip. China has been eying Iceland as a transshipment hub in the Arctic for some time now. So perhaps we could see a Maine-China connection eventually develop via the transshipment hub of Iceland. The Portland-Sortland route could then extend to Beijing and Shanghai. In future years, should Maine take after China’s lead, perhaps it will position itself as none other than a near-Arctic state. This would be rather fitting, as after all, it was only 1,000 years ago that Leif Ericson and his band of explorers are believed to have reached the coasts of Nova Scotia and possibly even the Pine Street State.

Watch out, Alaska!

Mia Bennett administers the Foreign Policy Association's Arctic Blog, and writes about Arctic issues for Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations. This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.