Hybrids vs Thoroughbreds

Last May the Bangor Daily News told us that Maine Port Authority officials were considering the use of an innovative new hybrid vessel that had been preliminarily designed under a joint venture by the U.S. Maritime Administration and the U.S. Defense Department. The port’s Executive Director said the U.S. Department of Transportation had approved a Maine Port Authority project to develop a coastal shipping route from Portland to the Port of New York using Articulated Tug Barges.

A few days earlier, New York-based American Feeder Lines decided to discontinue its container shipping service that tied Portland to Halifax. American Feeder Lines (AFL) had been serving the Portland-Halifax route with 750-TEU container ships, but were hampered by the bug-a-boo that has always brought failure to Short Sea Shipping ventures; no one has ever designed a vessel that could service short sea routes with a sufficient number of containers that could be loaded and offloaded efficiently. Conventional methods of loading and offloading kept all previous efforts in the red.

The containerized tug-barge hybrid design would have a limited capacity of 450-TEUs, and would be serviced in the conventional way. How the sponsors of this venture expect to make a profit using a vessel with less than half the capacity of the failed AFL vessels has yet to be revealed.

– Before AFL failed, a company carrying wood pulp to New York by barge pulled out in 2009. Small vessels – big losses.
– There was an earlier service to Halifax that ended in failure in 2008 because of limited capacity and the time spent to load and offload containers. A costly endeavor.
– An obvious financial fiasco brought the downfall of the container ship K-Wind in 2006, when it was seized in Halifax because of a non-payment dispute.
– And in 2004, federal marshals seized a container ship, the Shamrock, in Portland Harbor in a dispute over the ship’s mortgage.

But this 450-TEU barge is supposed to make a profit, somehow? Any attempt to provide financial support to this Articulate Barge scheme received a severe setback last week when 22 containers toppled from a Guantanamo-bound barge. The tugboat Spence was towing the 91-foot long Atlantic trader barge from Jacksonville to Guantanamo when the mishap occurred. The barge was towed back to Port Everglades where gawkers watched workers gingerly removing the surviving containers, including some that had collapsed onto themselves.

“It looks like fallen dominoes.” said a Port Everglades spokeswoman. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is determining whether to assign the blame (and legal liability) to the firm that loaded and secured the containers or the mariners operating the tugboat.

Here are the serious barge shortcomings that our patented design would overcome; limited capacity, limited speed, poor seaworthiness, inefficient and time-consuming loading and offloading operations, and most important of all – Short Sea barging has never made anyone a dime.