Horizon Lines to move shipping operations to Philadelphia from N.J.

A ship owned by Horizon Lines. (Photo from arm.gov)

The Port of Philadelphia will gain a shipping line when Horizon Lines Inc. moves its northeast terminal operations from Elizabeth, N.J. in April.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based shipping company said Wednesday that the Philadelphia port would handle cargo arriving from its operations in Puerto Rico.

Richard Rodriguez, general manager of Horizon's Puerto Rican operations, said in a statement that it expects the relocation to produce "significant advantages," including faster transit times, quicker turnaround times, and expedited cargo inspections.

The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority said the shipping line plans to bring 52 vessels a year to the Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia. The arrival of a new shipper will mean more work for longshoremen who will unload containerized cargo, said Joseph Menta, a PRPA spokesman.

According to Horizon’s annual report, its vessels transport food, household goods, auto parts, building materials, and materials used in manufacturing. Generating about $1 billion in annual revenue but unprofitable over the last five years, Horizon said its big customers include Costco, Lowe’s, Safeway, Wal-Mart and Johnson & Johnson.

Owned by the PRPA, the Packer Avenue terminal is operated by the privately held Greenwich Terminals L.L.C., part of the Gloucester City-based Holt Logistics Corp.

Horizon, which is publicly traded, said it expects to record a restructuring charge of about $6 million for the costs of the move and its estimated liability from withdrawing from the Port of Elizabeth's multiemployer pension plan.

Besides Elizabeth, Horizon ships cargo weekly between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and two other U.S. ports: Jacksonville, Fla.; and Houston. The first Horizon ship is scheduled to dock at the Packer Avenue terminal on April 11.

In December, Horizon announced it was reducing service to and from Jacksonville to weekly from twice weekly. At the time, Rodriguez noted that “Puerto Rico’s economy remains in a prolonged multi-year recession, during which time domestic container volumes to the island have contracted sharply.”

Shares of Horizon closed Wednesday unchanged at $1.49.