WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

COB Tipping Point: This Time For Sure?

Those of a certain generation will remember the cartoon moose Bullwinkle telling Rocky the Flying Squirrel, “This time for sure!” as he attempted to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Instead, he always got rhinoceroses, lions or anything but rabbits.

The attempts over many decades to promote container-on-barge on America’s rivers have felt like that at times. But there are good reasons to believe, “This time for sure!”

The effort is a true public-private partnership, if an informal one. In this issue, we report on the $3.1 million America’s Marine Highway Program grant to the ports of New Orleans and Greater Baton Rouge. It’s the latest support by the Maritime Administration for operator Seacor AMH’s innovative container-on-barge shuttle service.

The service, which launched in 2016, repositions empty containers from Memphis, Tenn., to Baton Rouge, where they’re held at the port’s container yard on the Port Allen Canal. Petrochemical manufacturers in the area, including Shintech, Dow and Exxon, send trucks to the yard to pick up empty containers and take them to the chemical plants, where they are loaded with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin pellets. The containers are then moved by barge to New Orleans, where they are transferred to ships for export.

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The container-on-barge shuttle service experienced significant growth last year, surging 58 percent.

The Ports of Indiana also recently received recognition from Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao for its leadership role in the development and advancement of the Marine Highway M-35/M-70 container-on-barge service on the Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers.

This project will support a waterway transportation network on the river system that will have the capability to deliver goods between three major gateway ports—Mount Vernon, Ind.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and St. Paul, Minn.—and to establish “new trade networks with significant public benefits, creating a foundation for future trade growth,” according to the Ports of Indiana.

“As the volume of freight continues to grow, this project will reduce carbon emissions and highway maintenance, lower transportation costs and provide economic opportunities in the region. We fully anticipate that the service will offer shippers transportation alternatives by utilizing our Marine Highway network.”

While federal support and recognition are always welcome, private investment will determine the future of movement of containers on the waterways. This is the place to mention American Patriot Holdings, which is developing its patented “box boats,” dedicated container vessels that it hopes will revolutionize waterborne container carriage by offering increased efficiencies (and more profits) than conventional COB. Since these aren’t barges, exactly, we now speak of container on vessel (COV).

It’s always a struggle for barge industry developments to make themselves known in the wider world. But in the current public climate, and with steady federal support, messages about the green benefits of COB and COV should sink in. This time, Bullwinkle could really pull the rabbit out of the hat.