A WEEKLY container shipping service linking Greenock to North America and the Baltic now looks certain to begin in August.

The service will be operated by a private company which has just won a franchise to operate the port of Rostock, once the main outlet for the foreign trade of the former East Germany.

The company, Kent Investments Limited, is headed by Lord Young, the former chairman of Cable & Wireless. Kent is backed by Jewish financiers in Israel and the US.

Kent is planning to revive the port of Rostock, where business has slumped since German reunification in 1990, by establishing a weekly container service to Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia in the US and Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. The ships will call at Copenhagen, Greenock and Dublin on both their outward and return journies.

``It is confirmed that the start will be in August,'' Ingbart Schreiber, a spokesman for the port of Rostock, told the Herald yesterday.

Rostock city council agreed in principle to let Kent Investments take over the port on Tuesday night, but Mr Schreiber said negotiations on the fine print of the contract would probably take two or three weeks.

The container service to North America and the Baltic should provide a big boost for Greenock container terminal, which at present only has regular international services to France, Spain, Portugal.

Transatlantic services from Greenock came to an end in 1988, since when all Scottish cargoes for North America have been shipped out of English ports instead. Container traffic through the port slumped from a peak of 70,000 twenty foot equivalent unit standard containers in the early 1970s to just 15,000 last year.

Last year Scotland shipped 11,000 TEU of whisky, paper, chemicals and general cargo to North America, mostly via Liverpool, Southampton and Felixstowe, while 5500 TEU of containerised cargo was imported.

But shipping sources say the new direct service from Greenock will probably be slow to take off. Traffic will only build up once shippers became confident that the service is reliable and there to stay.

The Rostock Container Line, as it will be called, will initially operate four chartered ships of about 4000 tonnes each with a cargo capacity of about 1000 TEU, but it eventually hopes to buy its own vessels.

The shipping company hopes to move between 100 and 200 TEU of cargo through Greenock per week - the equivalent of 5000 to 10,000 containers per year.

David Hunt, the managing director of Clydeport, warned that it could take a year or two to build up to such volumes.

But he noted that the new service was starting at an auspicious time, just as cargo shipments out of Scotland are building up to their pre-Christmas peak.

That means there will be a lot more cargo about, that has not already been contracted, than at other times of the year.

John S Braid & Co of Glasgow expects to become the Scottish agent of the Rostock Container Line, although it has not yet been formally appointed.

Three weeks ago the firm arranged a lunch for Werner Pinnow, the general manager of the port of Rostock, to meet leading Scottish shippers.

It now expects Mr Pinnow to return to Glasgow in early July to announce the formal start of the Transatlantic service.

Clydeport hopes the Rostock Container Line will bring in as much new business from the Baltic as from North America, with which Scotland has traditionally had stronger links.

Mr Hunt sees Greenock becoming a ``mini-hub'' for the growing trade between Scotland and other countries on the western edge of Europe and the emerging markets of eastern and central Europe.

Rostock already has feeder services to most other ports in the Baltic.