GENEVA -- Maryland port officials have signed a six-year lease with the Mediterranean Shipping Co. for the line to use Baltimore's new Seagirt Marine Terminal, the first tenant for the $250 million facility.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer witnessed the signing at the ship line's Geneva headquarters last week as part of his trade mission to Europe and Scandinavia to promote Baltimore's port and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"This is a landmark day for the Port of Baltimore," Schaefer said. "With this signing, Mediterranean Shipping becomes the first tenant at Seagirt. This is a relationship I am confident will be beneficial to both Mediterranean Shipping and the Port of Baltimore."

The lease, signed by MSC President Gianluigi Aponte and Maryland Port Administration Executive Director Brendan O'Malley, calls for shipment of up to 20,000 loaded containers annually at Seagirt, which officials say they hope to open this summer.

Mediterranean has been calling on Baltimore since the mid-1980s and currently uses the port's South Locust Point Marine Terminal.

Aponte founded MSC in 1979 with one vessel sailing between the Mediterranean and Northwest Europe.

The ship line has a fleet of 32 full-container ships and six time-charter vessels that cover worldwide trade routes.

Operated by Maryland International Terminals, a subsidiary of the MPA, Seagirt features a computerized gate complex, high-speed cranes and an adjacent container transfer facility.

"This lease with Mediterranean Shipping Co. represents a tremendous commitment to the future of the Port of Baltimore," said Transportation Secretary Richard Trainor, who also is Maryland Port Commission chairman.

"MSC is already a major player in global trade, and the fact that it has agreed to channel the Midwest cargo which it controls through the Port of Baltimore is a real endorsement of Seagirt's efficiencies. We see this as a wonderful partnership."