March 10, 1996: Portland entrepreneur James Finley announces a plan to set up an ocean trading route between Portland and Iceland, exporting hardwood to Iceland and importing frozen cod and lamb.

Finley, who operates three Portland-based fishing boats, says his first trading vessel, a 198-foot steel freighter, would arrive within the week at the Custom House Wharf in Portland. He calls prospects for Iceland-bound cargo so promising that he already has plans to expand with a second vessel.

He and his son Mark recruit sailors from Newfoundland, load a dismantled sawmill and a shipment of unprocessed trees onto the freighter and send them to Iceland, and then they follow by plane. By that time, however, severe and unexpected legal and health problems are undermining Finley’s efforts, his son says in a 2020 phone interview. Finley, then in his mid-70s, sells the sawmill, the lumber and his freighter and spends a year untangling the legal complications that result from his enterprise.

Finley’s assessment of doing business with Iceland is not without merit, however. In 2013, a year after his death, the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip makes Portland, the site of Maine’s only container shipping terminal, its American headquarters. Container traffic at the port nearly triples over the following six years.

In 2018, the terminal handles 22,835 containers. In April 2019, Eimskip introduces the 461-foot Pictor J, which is the largest ship ever to use the terminal and can carry nearly twice the number of containers that Eimskip’s next-largest ship can.

The company says it still sees room for growth in Portland, where cargo traffic is greater than ever.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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