The inland barge industry took delivery of 880 new jumbo hopper barges in 2015, a 57% increase over the 561 delivered in 2014, according to River Transportation News, which reports news and analysis for the inland river industry. Of the 880 jumbo hopper barges delivered, 737 were covered and 143 were open. Trinity Marine Products delivered the most jumbo covered — 504 — and jumbo uncovered — 141 — dry cargo barges. Second place went to Brownsville Marine Products with 180 covered and two uncovered. Jeffboat was next with 53 jumbo covered barges. The company did not deliver any uncovered jumbo hopper barges in 2015, according to RTN.
Jeffboat’s sister company, American Commercial Barge Line, added the most new hopper barges to its fleet with 168 in 2015, 75 of which were absorbed as part of its acquisition of AEP River Operations and 40 of which were hopper barges under long-term charter with Russell Flowers, RTN reported.
Sandor J. Toth, publisher of RTN said it is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the increase but that a record year for dry cargo rates and profits in 2014 was certainly a contributing factor. “Demand was strong in every sector except coal,” he said.
Other inland barge companies that took delivery of a substantial number of new jumbo hopper barges last year were Marquette Transportation with 167, East Side River Brokerage with 100, Florida Marine Transporters with 80, Ingram Barge Co. with 75, Heartland Barge Management with 64 and Parker Towing Co. with 50, according to RTN.
Unfortunately, by 2015 demand had softened significantly. “By the end of last year, the industry was tying up barges and that’s in the middle of harvest time,” said Toth. “The problem is the industry doesn’t have a lot of old stuff to take out of the fleet.” For example, in 2014, 60 covered hopper barges were sold to buyers in South America. In 2015, no overseas sales of hopper barges were recorded. “I’ve never seen it this bad, across the board,” said Toth. “There’s nothing doing well. There are a lot of problems like the depressed price of oil, equipment overbuild, natural gas versus coal, unbalanced exchange rates. It’s just terrible.”