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Spend a few minutes doing research on the Internet about Italia Line, and you quickly come up with more than a list of container ship names and port rotations.
You'll find genealogy pages with stories about ancestors who emigrated to America on the company's ships; tributes to such grand passenger liners as Rex, Cristoforo Colombo and Michelangelo; and accounts of the 1956 collision that sank the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nanucket.
So it was big deal, at least symbolically, this year when the company ended its Mediterranean-U.S. East Coast service, which for the last several years had been operated using space chartered on Zim Line ships. Italia, which was a small operator in the Med, will continue to serve the U.S.-Mediterranean trade from the Gulf and Pacific coasts, and will still operate between the US. and the Caribbean and Latin America.
Expectations are growing that weak rates and volumes may force other carriers to modify their Mediterranean services in the months ahead. But carriers have struggled in the Med for years.
Ole Sweedlund, deputy managing director of Hanjin Shipping Co., said rates on services to and from the Med are softer than last year, but notes there isn't anything unusual about that. "I don't think there is a single trade lane in and out of the U.S. that is not being affected by rate depression or overtonnaging," he said.
"The Mediterranean is behaving similarly to other major trades," agreed Shaul Cohen-Mintz, president of Zim American Israeli Shipping Co. If anything, he said, the drop in U.S. imports from the region has not been as severe as in some other trades. The U.S. economy may be soft, but foodstuffs, wine, tile and marble continue to move in large quantities from the region.
The Mediterranean comprises two distinct trade routes -- the Western Med, dominated by the economies of Spain, Portugal, France and Italy, and the Eastern Med, which includes Greece, Turkey, Israel and Egypt.
"The Western Med is much more competitive. There is more pricing pressure into those areas because of …