McAllister to develop box-carrying ATB for new short-sea venture

Maine Port Authority has hired McAllister Towing to design a containerized articulated tug-barge (ATB) for a short-sea shipping route proposed between Portland, Maine, and New York City.

For now, the $150,000 contract between the two parties only includes the design of the vessel. But it’s likely McAllister will end up as a partner on the service, said John Henshaw, the port authority’s executive director.

“The idea is that a public entity like the port authority would own the barge portion and McAllister own tug portion of ATB,” Henshaw said.

That partnership likely would reduce up-front capital costs needed to develop the route, which would link the International Marine Terminal in Portland with Red Hook Marine Terminal in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Hopefully those savings will find their way into the rate offered to customers,” he said.

Exact details such as cargo capacity and size won’t be known until the vessel design is released later this year.

Although ATBs have been around for decades, and containerships have been “cellularized” for even longer, the possibility of combining the two is somewhat novel, said Charles Cumming of McAllister Towing.

“The ‘unique’ part of what we are trying to develop is marrying the two into a functional and economical transportation unit,” he said. “We are also looking into new technologies for propulsion, such as hybrid or diesel electric power.”

Henshaw said the authority initially looked at acquiring a U.S.-flag vessel for the route, but found none that met its needs. The agency settled on a containerized ATB after seeing similar Jones Act vessels in use by the oil industry.

“It’s been proven as a viable business model,” he said.

The port authority received funding for the design contract from the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Marine Highway Program, which aims to ship more goods over water, reducing highway congestion, carbon emissions and roadway wear and tear. The design contract was awarded to McAllister after a competitive bidding process.

The proposed route would run alongside the busy Interstate 95 corridor. Henshaw expects it will appeal to shippers that need to move heavier loads than can be carried by trucks.

Additional freight could come from the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, which has signed a long-term lease at the Portland port. The facility has undergone tens of millions of dollars in improvements and upgrades in the past five years.

Although there are key hurdles that still must be cleared — finding money to build the vessel and securing shipping clients — both parties are optimistic that the proposed vessel and short-sea route will be successful.

“We strongly feel that this is an opportunity to develop a new line of business and that there is great potential for the proposed service,” Cumming said.     

By Professional Mariner Staff