This publication has been following the container-on-barge story for years. It’s a story that goes back many decades, but also one with many stops and starts and early promises that faded out over time. Waiting for a permanent container-on-barge solution to take root has made many observers and well-wishers feel like they are waiting for Bullwinkle the Moose to finally pull a rabbit out of his top hat, or for Charlie Brown to finally kick that football to the moon.
That’s why the announcement made in Herculaneum, Mo., by Sal Litrico, CEO of American Patriot Container Transport LLC December 17 seems so important. The company solicited bids on December 14 from seven shipyards to build American Patriot Holdings’ patented container-vessel, designed specifically for the inland waterways. The company says bids will be received by the end of February, after which the company will announce its decision.It’s no accident that Litrico’s announcement was made together with the announcement of new partnerships with APM Terminals, Hawtex Development Corporation, and Fred Weber/Riverview Commerce Park LLC. A vessel by itself, no matter how innovative, won’t change the game alone; instead, APH had to envision and develop an entire new logistics network. That’s true of any transportation mode; shippers need routes with cargo in both directions, with terminals than can handle any mode, and enough cargo density so that they can be sure of getting bookings for certain dates.
Demand is key, but one factor driving demand is the need for cleaner, greener transportation solutions. The waterways are already the cleanest and greenest around, even with existing towing vessels, due to their efficiency per ton-mile. But APH’s patented vessels, with their LNG propulsion fuel, are only one of several innovations seeking to “decarbonize” waterborne transportation. In this issue you can read about another initiative to build four all-electric towboats. You recently read about plans for the world’s first methanol-fueled towboats, from Maritime Partners. Different technologies are competing in the market to see which can be the least carbon-intensive, with the lowest unit cost and greatest efficiency.
A commitment to innovation and reducing carbon must be a cooperative effort, as the APH announcement shows. It takes many partners. But all these efforts will, we hope, attract ever more interest and investment in our under-utilized waterways. We firmly believe that nowhere else is the potential for the future as great.