PORTLAND — The nation’s top federal maritime official today said he believes that the moribund container service in Portland can be revived with the development of a new kind of hybrid vessel that the government has designed.

David Matsuda, who heads the U.S. Maritime Administration, spoke about the vessel during a tour of the International Marine Terminal in Portland with Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

The vessel, which is essentially a barge shaped like a ship and pushed by a towboat secured at its stern, could be built in the United States at a third of the cost of a standard container ship, cheaper to operate, and more stable in rough weather than conventional barges.

He said the vessel also would be useful to the U.S. Department of Defense and that the federal government is looking for a private-sector partner to build the vessel in the United States, possibly in Maine.

Federal law requires that ships that travel between domestic ports be manufactured in the United States and manned by U.S. mariners.

John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, who joined the tour, said there is enough demand in Maine to support a cargo feeder service between Portland and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Boston and New York.

Matsuda and Pingree toured the Portland facility three days after New York-based American Feeder Lines announced it is discontinuing its short-lived container shipping service that connected Portland to Halifax, where cargo was transported to larger container heading oversees.

Matsuda also today is visiting Searsport and Castine.

Matsuda on Saturday will speak at the commencement ceremony of the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, a financier and frequent Democratic donor who is a majority share owner of MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, and other media outlets in Maine.

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