Not all tug and barge operators have the high-water blues

Barge and other vessel traffic resumed yesterday along the Lower Mississippi River near Natchez, Miss., after the Coast Guard had halted it on Tuesday, worried about the effect vessel wakes would have on the area’s strained levees.

For most of the day on Tuesday, the Coast Guard kept a 15-mile stretch at Natchez closed, which prevented southbound barge tows and cargo ships from reaching lower river ports and the Gulf of Mexico, and empty barge tows from returning north. Traffic is moving once again, albeit at extremely slow speeds.

While delays and closures on the river system will likely cost the barge industry millions, not everyone will be hit as hard as, say, Ingram Barge or other dry-cargo operators with extensive upper river operations. Such is the case for Blessey Marine, a New Orleans-based tank barge operator. As of Tuesday, the company only had one tow south of Baton Rouge, La., being held up because the dock is closed. “We have four or so north of St. Louis hugging the bank. So far, it is really not so bad,” company CEO Walter Blessey wrote in an e-mail.

Perhaps the biggest winners so far have been Lower Miss tug operators, who, in addition to ship assists, have been busy with ship hold-ins. In and around the Port of New Orleans, ship-assist tug operators such as E.N. Bisso & Son, Bisso Towboat, Moran Towing and Crescent Towing have been extremely busy, with some bringing in tugs from other ports or chartering equipment from other operators that don’t usually perform Lower Miss ship-assist work to meet the demand.

Walter Kristiansen, E.N. Bisso’s president and CEO, supplied these interesting facts: Ships that call on the lower river usually average about five tugs for a berth call (docking and undocking). In March that number grew to just under six, and in April it was slightly over seven. “There are a number of facilities in Baton Rouge, and as far south as Reserve, that have temporarily ceased operation for safety reasons. Prior to their shut downs there were perhaps only 10 or 15 of about 50 ship-assist tugs available for docking/undocking, and the rest were on hold-ins,” he wrote in an e-mail.

To meet the demand, ship-assist tug companies report that vessel crews have been working extra days, all within U.S. Coast Guard regulations, to make sure there are enough operational tugs available. “Employees have responded to the call,” said Kristiansen.

Billy Slatten at Bisso Towboat, said, “Were in the same position. Everything available is crewed up and working non stop.”

Stay tuned. I expect to talk to Walter at his company’s dock on the river in New Orleans early next week and will provide a video update on tug ops and the high water on the lower Miss.

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About the author

David Krapf

David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.

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