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Uprisings in Egypt aren't frightening Turkon into safer waters

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Turkon's fleet is among the fastest, according to Serdar Ektik, but its ships don't have the cargo capacity of some of its rivals. Bigger shipping companies offer their customers container vessels that are more than 10 times the size of Turkon's average ship.
Turkon's fleet is among the fastest, according to Serdar Ektik, but its ships don't have the cargo capacity of some of its rivals. Bigger shipping companies offer their customers container vessels that are more than 10 times the size of Turkon's average ship. - (aaron houston)

Turkon America, a Secaucus-based shipping company with Turkish roots, has carved out a niche for itself as the only company that ships nonstop from the United States to several ports in Turkey. The company also ships direct to one more port—in Alexandria, one of Egypt's largest and, lately, most violent cities.

The political uprising in Egypt has monopolized international headlines for weeks, with the official death toll climbing to more than 1,100. But it hasn't kept Turkon America from spending millions of dollars to send ships packed with goods to the embattled country.

Physically, those ships and their cargo have been left untouched, said the company's president, Mustafa Merc, but economically, the company hasn't been entirely spared. American exporters, soured by the dire news reports, have been shipping less cargo to the ancient city by the sea, Merc said, and less cargo means less revenue.

"Commercially, there will be some problems," he added. "The people maybe will hesitate to export right now, and will wait."

Despite that modest economic impact, which the company has not quantified with a dollar amount, Turkon has maintained a regular schedule in and out of the port at Alexandria since the country spiraled into political chaos in mid-August, Merc said. After all, that direct, nonstop access to Turkey and Egypt is one of Turkon America's greatest selling points in an industry where Merc said it has become harder and harder to turn a profit.

Turkon America, the U.S. arm of an old Turkish shipping company, opened its Secaucus headquarters in 1998.

The company's five shipping vessels are small, compared to other lines, said Serdar Ektik, marketing manager for Turkon America. Ship sizes are measured in 20-foot equivalent units, called TEUs, which refer to how much cargo a ship can hold. While a Turkon ship measures roughly 1,400 TEUs, other shipping companies have ships that are more than 10 times that size. For example, Maersk, which has its U.S. headquarters in Madison, is building a ship that the company is touting as the world's largest container vessel, measuring 18,000 TEUs.

So Turkon touts the speed, rather than size, of its fleet. It takes about 18 days for a ship to travel from Savannah, Ga., to Turkey, and only 16 days from Turkey to New York.

"It's a big advantage, because we are providing the fastest service in the market," Ektik said.

But the current economic climate makes it a tough time to be in shipping. There is a tremendous amount of available shipping capacity and not enough containerized cargo to fill it, Merc said. That has made competition among carriers fierce.

"That's why return on investment for this business is not so attractive," he said. "We are trying to minimize our costs as much as we can."

At the same time, the company is trying to grow its business, Merc said.

Turkon is in talks with Ford Motor Co. about a new project that could add up to an additional 2,000 cargo containers a year for the company, Merc said. The automotive giant is considering purchasing its spare parts from Turkey; if that goes forward, Turkon could be Ford's shipping company of choice, Merc said. That decision should be made by the end of this year.

In addition, Merc said Turkon is looking to expand its operations to include service to the Black Sea countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Armenia, in the next three years.

"After the long time of the communism era, (the Black Sea countries) are opening their economies to the free market, and their import/export activities are becoming attractive," he said. "We want to make benefit on that."

E-mail to: maryj@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @mjohns422

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