Articulated tug barges on the Marine Highway?
Two groups are investigating the possibility of using articulated tug-barges to offer short-sea services for domestic shippers of containerized cargo in the United States.
A new company called Minyan Marine is looking at the possibility of operating a “marine highway” service between U.S. ports on the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast.
Scott Davis, a director and founder of the company, said it would focus on moving chemicals in tank containers, attracting domestic cargo now moving by rail or truck. (For more on Minyan’s plans, see the September issue of American Shipper.)
Meanwhile, the Port Authority of Maine has studied the possibility of setting up a short-sea service between Portland, Maine, and the Port of New York. That service would focus on moving products produced in Maine such as paper, pulp, lumber, frozen seafood and bottled water to domestic consumers, said Charles Cumming, a project manager at McAllister Towing and Transportation, which assisted Maine with the study. The study began last year and is ongoing.
McAllister is one of the nation’s premier tugboat companies, with operations in New York/New Jersey, Baltimore, Charleston, Jacksonville, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Port Everglades, Portland, Providence and Puerto Rico.
An advantage of short-sea shipping is that if a port warehouse is used, containers could be loaded more heavily than if they moved over the road, Cumming noted. Both services could also be used to feeder international cargo, and Davis said there is also the possibility of his company moving LNG or other petroleum products produced in growing quantities in the U.S. because of the rapid growth in fracking.
While coastal shipping of containers or truck trailers are common in many parts of the world, they have had limited success in the United States.
Earlier this month, the Port of Stockton said a weekly service between its terminal and the Port of Oakland would now be offered only on an “as-needed” basis. While the port was having discussions with container giant Mediterranean Shipping Co. about taking over the operation, if a deal was not reached by the end of August, it was likely Stockton would issue a request for proposals to see if any other private entity would be interested in assuming operational control of the barge service, said Mark Tollini, senior deputy port director.
Unlike the Oakland-Stockton service — and other services in the U.S., like the 64 Express Service between Hampton Roads and Richmond, or the various services of Columbia Coastal along the U.S. East Coast, which are primarily used to feeder international cargo arriving or destined from overseas to other U.S. ports — the Maine and Minyan projects are aimed at moving domestic cargo that now moves by rail or truck, supplemented perhaps with international shipments.
McAllister assisted Maine with the study and could perhaps become a partner with the state in the service to New York, though he said there is no decision about how such a service would be structured.
Both Maine and McAllister, and Minyan Marine have worked with naval architect Robert Hill of Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering in Milford, Mass., on design of articulated tug-barges, where tugs are married with barges with special locking mechanisms.
ATBs are widely used in the petroleum industry, and Cumming said that “the operating speeds and efficiencies of the ATB concepts put them a league ahead of what traditional feeder service barge operations have been.” ATB’s can operate with smaller crews than self-propelled ships. McAllister does not operate ATB’s for the petroleum industry, but does offer assistance services to such vessels when they dock.
Minyan is proposing a tug-barge unit could operate at speeds of up 15 knots, and cargo could make it from port to port in five days, and offer deliveries door to door in seven days. Davis said the company would eventually like to use multiple barges (three tugs and five barges would be optimal, he said), so one could be in port loading and another discharging, while the others are in motion.
Minyan is considering building a barge that would have the ability to carry 1,056 TEU. Cell guides would secure the containers and also eliminate the need for time-consuming and costly lashing.
Maine and McAllister has looked at a barge that would have capacity for about 894 TEU and a tug that would be able to propel the units at 12 knots. But Cumming said such a unit could probably make a New York to Portland round trip in a week with a normal operating speed of between 9 knots and 10 knots. The Minyan barge hull form would allow for faster speeds, he said.
Cumming said it might be several years before such a service could be started, in part because U.S. shipyards are congested building new vessels for the Jones Act petroleum industry. When the concept was first investigated, the estimated cost of a barge was about $40 million and a tug about $25 million, but because of rising costs, he said the units might be considerably more expensive if ordered today.