‘Marine highway’ for chemicals
A new company, Minyan Marine, believes it has a winning formula for building a successful “marine highway” operation.
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.
In August, 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.
Columbia Coastal, Kirby Corp.’s Osprey Line and the 64 Express all move containers on barge, but other “marine highway” services have had trouble sustaining themselves—for example, in 2010, American Feeder Lines folded a service between Boston, Portland, and Halifax, and the following year, SeaBridge ended a service between Port Manatee and Brownsville, Texas.
Scott Davis, founder of Minyan Marine, wants to start a “Jones Act” service using an articulated tug barge (ATB) that would operate between the Gulf of Mexico and the Northeast.
A retired executive from J.P. Morgan Chase—in the real estate area, not shipping—Davis is slated to speak about his project, several years in development, at the Marine Log’s All About Marine conference this month in Biloxi, Miss.
Davis has plans to use an ATB designed by Robert Hill of Ocean Tug & Barge Engineering in Milford, Mass.
The barge that the company is considering building would have the ability to carry 1,056 containers. Cell guides would secure the containers and also eliminate the need for time-consuming and costly lashing.
ATBs, where the tug is married to the barge with a locking system, are widely used in the coastal petroleum barge industry and have sea-keeping and speed advantages over towed barges.
Compared to self-propelled ships they have attractive capital cost and smaller crews. Davis said he is planning to crew the ships with 10 people—reflected in the word “minyan,” the quorum of 10 men required for some Jewish services. (He adds that female crew members would be welcome.)
The company would concentrate on moving tank containers holding chemicals, including hazardous materials such as anhydrous ammonia and chlorine.
He sees a major opportunity in the ability to convert the movement of chemicals moving by intermodal rail to the “marine highway,” adding there are many chemicals that railroads do not want to move in tank containers.
Davis said he is not relying on a “build it, and they will come” philosophy, but is lining up shippers and intermodal marketing companies in advance of building a vessel.
Many chemical shippers have their own ISO tank containers already, and he noted that even if there’s not a backhaul cargo, because of the high cost of tank containers, shippers understand the need to pay for the repositioning equipment to its point of origination.
Davis said Minyan would consider moving other cargoes besides chemicals, if it could be priced properly. And he sees big opportunity in possibly moving liquefied natural gas or other products being produced through fracking.
“That’s the kicker in this deal,” he said.
Most of the fuel for the tug would be stored on the barge, and while the company is keeping an open mind on what type of fuel to use, Minyan is considering use of alternative fuels, such as LNG and methanol.
The tug-barge unit could operate at speeds of up 15 knots and cargo could make it from port to port in five days, or door to door in seven days. Davis’ plan is eventually to use multiple barges (three tugs, five barges would be optimal, he said), so one could be in port loading and another discharging, while the others are in motion.
This column was published in the September 2014 issue of American Shipper.