For most of the summer an empty container vessel has been riding at anchor in Portland harbor. In July, U.S. Marshals arrested SHAMROCK for defaulting to its creditors.

SHAMROCK was the only container ship to service Portland. Container cargo shipments in and out of the port stopped with its impoundment, a blow to Portland’s International Marine Terminal (IMT).

“It’s a glorified collections case,” said Tom Newman, a lawyer representing the creditors, Fortis Bank of The Netherlands, to whom $14.3 million is owed. Additional costs of crew and captain wages, custodial care, fuel and insurance push the total amount closer to $15 million.

SHAMROCK will be auctioned on Nov. 12 in Portland. She was seized in Portland because United States law is more favorable to creditors.

The owners, Copropriete du Navire SHAMROCK, are a French partnership formed by individuals to take advantage of generous tax credits if runs serviced economically underprivileged areas. Apparently they walked away from their obligations when the service failed to return their investment.

The French government used the tax breaks as a way of subsidizing cargo runs to St. Pierre and Miquelon, the tiny French islands south of Newfoundland. St. Pierre and Miquelon are important to France because, as the only territory remaining of French Canada since 1763, they stake French fishing and oil rights in the northwest Atlantic.

SHAMROCK serviced Boston, Portland, Halifax and St. Pierre and Miquelon.

Jack Humeniuk, the manager of the IMT, says that everything has slowed down since SHAMROCK was impounded. Hapag-Lloyd, the major user of the IMT, has kept the terminal open. Cargo continues to move in and out of the terminal primarily by truck, but also by connecting with rail.

Typical cargo includes Jotul stoves, spirits, high value paper, machinery, seafood, apples, and sea moss and its finished product.

He believes that Hapag-Lloyd is working to replace SHAMROCK in the near future, possibly by the end of October.

As a feeder port, Portland’s total cargo was 2,500 containers or 3,000 Twenty Equivalent Units (TEU), the industry standard, in 2003, a number equivalent to filling over half of one of the average size container ships (4,500 TEUs) that calls at Halifax. The largest capacity container ships hold 6,300 TEUs.

That amount of cargo “is a blip on the screen,” said PD Merrill of Merrill’s Marine Terminal. “We are a feeder port, and can’t generate enough volume to be a hub with many container ships docking here.”

He pointed out that the Far East routes have the largest volume for container ships, not Europe.

Last spring Merrill was looking into a joint venture moving forestry products through his terminal to the IMT, but the demise of SHAMROCK put the plans on hold.

“It’s very hard to put all the pieces together for feeder ships’ costs,” he said.

Talks with Columbia Coastal, a feeder from New York to Boston, to extend service to Portland foundered on the various regulatory issues that govern a domestic coastal run.

In the meantime, SHAMROCK is under the care of a custodial service out of Florida which pays the crew, keeps the vessel in good working order, and continues insurance, all at a cost of $3,000 a day.

In mid October, SHAMROCK moved to Berth 2 near the Maine State Pier where access to fuel and supplies is cheaper. It will also pay Portland $9,000 a month rent.

Michael Kaplan, attorney for the owners of SHAMROCK, says that technicalities should have kept the bank from arresting the boat, and he believes the battle will be fought in European courts.