In his 26 years of inland river industry experience, the one thing that Charles Latham said has changed the most about the fleeting and harbor sector is safety, while many of the industry’s challenges remain the same. Latham, who has been general manager of TPG Marine’s harbor barge service MVBS Jeffersonville in Indiana for nine years, said he believes the industry has safer fleeting practices now than even five years ago.
“Things have definitely changed in terms of safety and how people execute a fleeting plan,” he said. “Everything is better now, from how we wire in the barges to how we monitor them. We strategically place barges and pre-build tows for our customers the best we can with the advanced information our customers give to us.”
As all three operations continue to expand, Latham said each site is faced with various challenges that come with growth and the fleeting industry. “Towboat employees are often very young,” he said. “That is both good and bad. It’s good, because we can mold our employees the ‘TPG’ way, but bad in terms of lacking prior knowledge of the fleeting and harbor service game.”
To help keep young employees motivated to do well and learn more about the industry, Latham said TPG Marine has established a bonus program for employees who reach six months of employment. “During our hiring process, we emphasize that we can help this job become a career for each employee,” he added.
Alex Smith, associate general counsel for TPG Marine, said another challenge often faced by the fleeting and harbor service sector is precipitation and the river conditions it creates. “A fast current or hot water will wreak havoc on fleeting equipment and the kevels on the barges,” he said. “This increases the risk of breakaways. Also, flooding brings debris into the river from the shoreline.”
Smith said that while this specific challenge is something the industry will always have to deal with, it’s one that it can stay on top of, so to speak. “Management frequently monitors the river stages in high-water situations,” he said. “They know how our fleets react in certain conditions. We have employees who have excellent attention to detail when pulling and de-drifting the fleets. Moreover, TPG Marine has the equipment and know-how to replace its own fleeting equipment, such as deadmen. This gives us the ability to repair and maintain our fleets in a cost-effective and timely manner.”
Slack Water Advantage
TPG Marine Enterprises has two harbor service fleeting operations along the Ohio River, Mt. Vernon Barge Service and MVBS Jeffersonville, along with Green River Barge Service in Kentucky.
“We are in a 59-acre slack water harbor off the Ohio River and our port time—the time it takes our customers to come in and out of our fleets—is unparalleled,” said Latham.
Smith added that the company has a tremendous amount of fleeting capacity in Mt. Vernon, Ind., and would welcome the opportunity to moor a fleet of barges for an extended period. “We are looking for vessel owners who want ‘long-term parking’ on the lower Ohio River to reach out to us,” he said. “Our slack water harbor in Jeffersonville shields vessels from the current, which substantially cuts down on the possibility of a breakaway.”
In addition to the benefits of being in a slack water harbor, Smith said MVBS Jeffersonville has a tug that services the harbor 24/7. “If your vessel requires the utmost security in a cost-effective manner, we have the ability to assist in that,” he said.
Mt. Vernon Barge Service is located on Mile 828 of the Ohio River at the Port of Indiana-Mt. Vernon. The operation has provided harbor, repair and cleaning services to the inland waterways for more than 50 years. The company said that its fleet of towboats serves more than a dozen docks at the port and at terminals in Uniontown and West Franklin.
Heading up the Ohio River is the company’s MVBS Jeffersonville facility at Mile 596.7. The operation serves the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville and the Louisville, Ky., pool. While a smaller operation, MVBS Jeffersonville has towboats that provide fleeting for more than 100 barges. MVBS Jeffersonville is also an approved barge safety painting facility.
The Green River Barge Service operation provides TPG Marine customers with barge shifting, topside repairs and barge cleaning. The operation also has a fleet of towboats to help assist customers and is a member of the American Waterways Operators’ Responsible Carrier Program.