THE new weekly container service launched by France's biggest shipping company between the United States and the Mediterranean Sea is now fully operational. Marseille-based Compagnie Maritime d'Affretement (CMA) said its new weekly service, called Medam, would speed US exports to the Mediterranean and the Indian sub-continent by cutting delivery times by one week. The service is jointly operated by Canada's CAST company and the Tricom consortium, made up of Germany's DSR and Senator lines and South Korea's Cho Yang, which have now joined the South Europe American Conference. Eventually, 13 recently built ships will operate the service. The 2,000 20-foot equivalent unit container vessel Asian Senator, making its maiden voyage, left New York on Monday to inaugurate the service. CMA's container ships Vesta and Vega will join it in January. The line will principally serve the ports of Valencia in Spain, La Spezia in Italy, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates. The last named will be used as a springboard for US exports to the Gulf and the Indian sub-continent, according to a CMA statement. CMA president Jacques Saade said Medam was important to the French shipping industry, which for the past 15 years, had 'developed traffic between the United States and its traditional markets, in particular those of the Mediterranean and the Gulf '. During this period, CMA's growth had been based largely on a series of connecting carrier agreements, and on building an extensive agency network throughout the US. 'Now, we feel the time is right to be directly involved in the US market, providing our customers with faster more efficient services to their Mediterranean and Middle East markets,' said Mr Saade. He said he was keen that CMA be recognised as 'a real North Atlantic operator, rather than just another transshipment operator'. Fast transit times will be offered: eastbound from Norfolk to La Spezia in 16 days; and westbound from Valencia to New York in nine days. From La Spezia, eastbound containers for east Mediterranean and North African destinations will be relayed via CMA's weekly dedicated feedering network operated by Feeder Associate Systems (FAS). FAS calls at many ports, including Damietta, Alexandria, Beirut, Limassol, Lattakia, Mersin, Istanbul, Gemlick, Izmir, Piraeus, Tripoli and Tunis. The Black Sea port of Constantza, Romania, is also covered. 'Transit times to Middle East destinations are a particular feature and will be cut by up to seven days on our new direct service, reaching Jeddah in 20 days from Savannah, and Khor Fakkan in 25 days,' Mr Saade said. Khor Fakkan will be CMA's hub port for containers from both the US and Canada, using the carrier's relay connections to ensure fast deliveries to destinations in the upper and lower Gulf regions, Iran and the Indian sub-Continent. Most points throughout the United Arab Emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, will be served overland from Khor Fakkan by trucking services.