For petrochemical industry leaders like Exxon Mobil Corp., Shintech Inc. and The Dow Chemical Co., a recently launched SEACOR AMH LLC container-on-barge service is providing an efficient means to get resin products to port for global shipping.
Relying upon the Mississippi River as an alternative to highways, the weekly shuttle service offers resin producers an intermodal supply chain link that allows more resin to be moved per container while averting roadway bottlenecks.
“It’s a growing business that wasn’t there 10 years ago,” said Richard Teubner, vice president of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based SEACOR AMH LLC, which barges empty containers from Memphis to Baton Rouge, where they are stuffed with locally produced resin, and then barges the boxes farther down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.
“The projections are pretty high,” Teubner added, noting that 1,500 loads moved on the service from its initiation in June through early September. “We are extremely excited about the level of interest so far.”
From end to end, the endeavor covers more than 600 miles of the Mississippi River, starting with the collection of empty containers at SEACOR AMH’s 70-acre riverfront terminal just north of the International Port of Memphis. Traditionally, such empties – import containers that had moved into Middle America by truck or rail – would likely have headed to New York or other East Coast port areas for stuffing for export, according to Teubner.
But the empty boxes accrued in Memphis by SEACOR AMH have a different fate. They are barged more than 500 miles from Memphis, at Mile Marker 737 on the Mississippi, south to the Inland Rivers Marine Terminal of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, in Port Allen, Louisiana, on a slackwater canal off the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near the river’s Mile Marker 228.
Each Thursday, those containers leave the Inland Rivers Marine Terminal filled with resin trucked from nearby facilities of ExxonMobil, Shintech, Dow and others with petrochemical plants in the Baton Rouge area that churn out plastic resin products such as polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) that are in high demand worldwide for a broad range of packaging, consumer and industrial uses.
Eschewing Interstate 10 for the parallel river routing, the containers are delivered on Fridays to the Port of New Orleans, at Mile Marker 100, where they can be loaded on export vessels over the weekend.
“It’s a kind of synergistic operation,” Teubner said. “It allows seamless logistics rather than having all these pieces beyond your control that could slow you down.”
Such impediments, he said, could include anything from an accident on a highway bridge to traffic for a Louisiana State University football game to flood-related issues to backups where trucks make their way from I-10 to New Orleans docks.
Many of the boxes are those of France-based container line CMA CGM S.A., which is SEACOR AMH’s client, but some belong to other ocean carriers as well.
“It’s working well for us as a partner with CMA as our keystone client,” Teubner said, adding that containers can move on a through bill of lading from Baton Rouge to their international destination, whether it be in Asia, Europe or Latin America.
The introduction of the container-on-barge service has timed well with CMA CGM’s launch of new services from the Port of New Orleans, including the weekly direct Med Americas offering begun in August from Port NOLA’s Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal to San Antonio, Chile; Callao, Peru; and Buenaventura, Colombia.
In addition to averting roadway congestion, the container-on-barge service offers shippers the benefit of being able to load as much as 15 percent more cargo per container than allowed on highways, where trucks operated under restricted weight limits.
Greg Johnson, director of business development at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, said this “could certainly help in reducing ozone levels in the Greater Baton Rouge area, which is vitally important to future economic development for the port region.”
The Port of Greater Baton Rouge’s executive director, Jay Hardman, noted that the project designation by the U.S. Maritime Administration of the shuttle service under its America’s Marine Highway program should facilitate additional benefits.
“This designation will allow us to further our mission of moving commerce efficiently,” Hardman said. “In addition, it will qualify us for federal grants that will also help us to successfully compete globally.”