In Magazine Article

By Todd Karpovich
Photography Courtesy of ACL

Port Sept/Oct cover

Read this article in the digital edition of our September/October 2019 issue.

Atlantic Container Line (ACL) and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Port Administration (MDOT MPA) have been strategic partners for more than five decades. They have worked closely together to witness business growth and plan for a successful business collaboration for many years to come.

“Baltimore has been an integral part of ACL’s service for over 50 years. Under the very capable management of Executive Director Jim White, the MDOT MPA has always found the right solutions to enable us to dramatically grow our operation and add the services of our parent company, Grimaldi. Our group now has multiple Baltimore calls each week to Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and West Africa, moving 125,000 cars, 50,000 container TEUs and 300,000 tons of oversized cargo last year. Nobody solves problems faster or helps us exploit opportunities better than Jim and his team,” said Andrew J. Abbott, President and CEO of ACL.

ACL revolutionized the international maritime industry when its first vessel, the Atlantic Span, called at the Port of Baltimore in September 1967. This unique ship had its cargo of automobiles, machinery and trailers placed in its garage deck, safe and secure from the bad weather and elements. The cargo was rolled off the ro/ro deck. This was a first since other carriers had their cargo above deck and it needed to be hoisted off vessels. Driving cargo on and off the Atlantic Span was much safer and more efficient.

“ACL has been a longtime presence at the Port of Baltimore and is a key reason for our growth in many different commodities,” said James J. White, Executive Director of the MDOT MPA. “Andy and his team are second to none and we look forward to a continued productive partnership for years to come.”

After 50 years, ACL has successfully navigated the many dramatic changes within the industry. The company has traversed more than 25 million miles with more than 100 million tons of cargo. ACL is a model for other shipping companies because of its use of multimodal vessels that have the ability to call at almost any port in the entire world.

ACL is a specialized carrier of containers, project and oversized cargo, heavy equipment and vehicles with the world’s largest combination ro/ro/containerships. ACL has made history handling many unusual and exotic cargoes — animals, museum pieces, whole diners and the cargo of celebrities such as Queen Elizabeth, Elvis Presley, John Travolta, Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

ACL’s headquarters are in Westfield, N.J., with offices throughout Europe and North America. ACL has four transatlantic sailings each week and also handles the Grimaldi Lines’ Service between the U.S. and West Africa and the Grimaldi EuroMed Service between North America and the Mediterranean. Furthermore, ACL carries oversized cargo from North America to the Middle East, Far East and Australia.

Atlantic Star

ACL ship Atlantic Star at Port of Baltimore by Bill McAllen

In 2007, ACL became a wholly owned unit of the Grimaldi Group of Naples, Italy. ACL launched its new G4 (Generation 4) fleet in 2018. The G4 fleet consists of first-of-its-kind, innovative vessels: the Atlantic Star, Atlantic Sun, Atlantic Sea, Atlantic Sail and Atlantic Sky, all operating in the company’s transatlantic service.

The G4 vessels are the largest ro/ro/containerships (CONRO) ever built. They incorporate an innovative design that increases capacity without significantly changing the dimensions of the vessel. The G4s are bigger, greener and more efficient than their predecessors. The container capacity is more than doubled, at 3800 TEUs, plus 28,900 square meters of ro/ro space and a car capacity of 1,300+ vehicles.

The ro/ro ramps are wider and shallower, and decks are higher (up to 7.4 meters) with fewer columns, enabling much easier loading and discharge of oversized cargo. Emissions per TEU are reduced by 65 percent. The fleet employs cell-guides on deck, a feature that allows ACL to extend its enviable record: For more than 50 years, ACL ships have never lost a container at sea.

ACL’s new G4 fleet greatly enhances the company’s cargo-carrying capabilities. Combined with Grimaldi’s ever-expanding service network, the G4s enable ACL to provide even more services for its customers and maintain its leadership role as a high-quality container and ro/ro operator for many years to come.

In 2018, ACL chose the Port of Baltimore’s Dundalk Marine Terminal as the site to christen its new G4 vessel, the Atlantic Star, with a ceremony aboard the vessel that included ACL CEO Andrew Abbott, Commissioner Rebecca Dye of the Federal Maritime Commission (Godmother of the vessel) and Guido Grimaldi, grandson of the parent company’s founder, who traveled from Italy for the ceremony. Over the years, the Port has become the key location for the Grimaldi Group’s business activities.

A special connection that the Port of Baltimore also shares with ACL is that James J. White, Executive Director of the MDOT MPA, began his career by working on the docks at the Port. He remembers that you “could set your watch” to the arrival of the ACL vessels.

The Port has a 52 percent market share of all roll-on/roll-off cargo handled on the U.S. East Coast. The Port also ranks first in the U.S. for the import and export of automobiles. This fits perfectly into ACL’s strategic goal of maintaining leadership in the transportation of ro/ro cargo.


U.S. Headquarters: Westfield, N.J.

President & CEO: Andrew J. Abbott

Employees: 307 (Europe, the U.S. and Canada)

Portfolio: Four weekly transatlantic sailings covering 15 ports in Northern Europe, the U.S and Canada.