Short and to the Point

A start up shipping line, American Feeder Lines (AFL), has announced its intention to launch a weekly container feeder service beginning in the second quarter of this year, connecting Boston, Portland, Maine, and Halifax in Nova Scotia. A chartered 1,000-1,300 TEU capacity vessel will be the first vessel to be used in the venture, the company revealed, and a letter of intent has been signed for ten 1,300-TEU vessels to be built at two different U.S. shipyards.

The company said its new vessels “will be the greenest possible ships trading in U.S. waters” and will also be modifiable to house an onboard crane.

The chairman and co-founder of the new shipping line is quoted as saying, “We have spent a lot of time with the ports and the industry stakeholders in New England. Our research showed that importers and exporters in the region are disadvantaged as there is a lack of all water services serving the region. Many conversations have pointed us to the obvious need, shippers and receivers have made commitments, which have encouraged us to take our decision.”

The port authority at Boston’s Massport “will market the new service to its customers, accounting for several hundred thousand TEUs,” according to AFL, and when the operation gets off the ground service will be extended to include Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington (Del.) and Wilmington (NC), Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, Miami, Tampa, Mobile, and Galveston/Houston.

If that prediction of “several hundred thousand TEUs” is anywhere near accurate, the AFL is making a very smart move. If that prediction is just fantasy though, then officials at AFL – who have yet to find the money for those ten $ 70 million 1,300-TEU ships – may be biting off more than they can chew.

The Port of Portland has been idle for almost a year, for one thing, and that’s because there’s not the kind of traffic around that would justify talk of “several hundred thousand TEUs”.

But for another thing – and it’s the biggest hurdle of all – there is no vessel built that can turn a profit in a Short Sea Shipping venture. Barges have been tried, but with such limited capacity the operations were in the red from day one, and when small container ships were called upon – like the MV National Glory – it took so much time to store and retrieve containers at each stop that its operation likewise proved to be unprofitable. It’s the time spent in repeated loading and offloading operations in efforts to disgorge targeted containers that eats into profits and raises costs at every link along the chain.

Short Sea Shipping is such a logical concept, however, that measures must be taken to come up with the kind of a vessel that can handle containers quickly, efficiently, and therefore, profitably. Well, our patented container ship design is the solution to the problem. Our patented design does not require “repeated loading and offloading operations”. Look at our website. We can retrieve (or store) containers instantaneously – just as easily as you can switch channels on your TV set.