National Shipping of America (NSA) will start a new fortnightly service between Puerto Rico and the Port of Houston on May 29.
The company will operate its “Isla Verde Express” service using National Glory
, a U.S. flag-ship with a capacity of 570 TEUs, including 96 plugs for refrigerated containers.
Torey Presti, the president of NSA, said the ship has been on charter to APL for four years as a feeder ship, and operated in several different areas—in the Arabian Gulf, the Eastern Mediterranean, and Baltic Sea. The ship came off charter in late April and is currently in transit from North Europe to Houston.
“After careful market analysis, we found that shippers west of the Mississippi River have few options to move cargo to and from Puerto Rico without having to use an East Coast port,” Presti said in an interview. “A significant percentage of the mainland-Puerto Rico cargo is from Texas and the western states. By calling Houston, we offer a central U.S. location, which together with synchronized intermodal connections, enhances the options for shippers and keeps their supply chains predictable and steady.”
Presti said the company will operate its service so its ships are calling Houston and San Juan on alternate weeks that Horizon Lines calls the ports with its Houston-San Juan string. He said that will allow companies to ship on a weekly basis, and allow shippers to reduce inventory and experience more rapid return of expensive equipment such as tank and refrigerated containers.
NSA offers transport with 20-foot, 40-foot, and 45 foot-containers, as well as out-of gauge cargo.
While carriers in the U.S. mainland-Puerto Rico trade offer multiple sailings each week between Jacksonville, Fla., and San Juan, Presti said Houston is attractive to many shippers both because of its western location and fewer weight restrictions on containers loaded with heavy cargoes, such as resins, chemicals, and rice.
has an interesting history. It was one of 10 tweendeckers built in Poland by Polish Ocean Lines for trade between North Europe and West Africa. Normally ships operating in U.S. domestic trades, including the trade to and from Puerto Rico, must be built in the United States. But because the ship was seized in a drug bust and sold at auction in 2005, it is possible to use it in domestic, or so-called Jones Act, services.
After the ship was purchased, NSA removed gear and inserted cell guides to make it a containership.
The vessel will operate between Jacintoport terminal in Houston and the International Shipping Agency (Interport) container terminal San Juan.
NSA is entering a crowded market - Horizon, Sea Star, Crowley and Trailer Bridge all offer container services between the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico - but Presti noted the trade has been extremely competitive, one that he says has been a “burial place for carrier profits in the last 10 years.”
Yet at the same time, he said “we see the end of the war coming in Afghanistan.”
“We studied the contiguous and non-contiguous trades and we think this is where the ship fits,” he said.
Presti said over the years the company has explored using the ship to operate a “marine highway” service along the East Coast between the Philadelphia area and Port Everglades, Fla., across the Gulf of Mexico between Brownsville, Texas and Port Manatee, Fla., and even between various port pairs on the West Coast.
“We really could not make it work,” he said, noting short-sea shipping faces a number of challenges in the United States, including the harbor maintenance tax, cost of cargo handling, and greater frequency of service that trucking companies and railroads can office compared to a firm with a single ship.
NSA was established in 2007, and founded by C.C. Chen, a pioneer of short-sea shipping in Asia and founder of Wan Hai Lines in 1962.
Presti said “NSA is a small organization, but we have partnered with best-in-class companies to provide customers with outstanding personal service." Partners include general agent Norton Lilly and intermodal provider Interdom.
Presti said the company will use a transparent and easily understood fuel charge. The charge will be based on the most recent market conditions adjusted quarterly with vessel utilization. For a given price of fuel, the higher the vessel utilization, the lower the fuel charge per container assessed to the customer, he explained. - Chris Dupin