Jeffboat to close in early May, ACL chief says

Jeffboat LLC is closing its doors in May because it was the only choice left for the shipyard, according to the barge builder’s parent company, American Commercial Lines (ACL). Jeffersonville, Ind.-based ACL is owned by Platinum Equity LLC.

“To be financially rewarding we have to build about 250 barges (annually) and employ 600 to 800 employees,” Mark Knoy, ACL’s president and CEO, said in a WorkBoat interview. “In reality, it just didn’t appear that was going to happen. It was just too much of a financial struggle.”

The Jeffersonville shipyard is over 180 years old, having been established in 1834. Late last year, shipyard officials began wholesale layoffs, saying half its workforce would lose their jobs by the first quarter of 2018. In February, Dawn Landry, Jeffboat’s senior vice president and general counsel, said in a notice to state labor officials that shipyard management expected to layoff 226 positions by April of this year but had no plans to close the facility.

But Jeffboat ownership had to rethink that position. “There’s just not enough building to support the number of shipyards out there,” said Knoy. “It’s been coming for some time. There’s not going to be enough for everyone to keep going. I wish there was an answer.”

The barge industry has been suffering from an oversupply of equipment, particularly barges, over the past two years. New tank barges last year were at some of the industry’s lowest levels since at least 2000, according to River Transport News. The low price of steel and the availability of funds sparked a rush to build for several years prior to 2016, when the overhang of equipment became a serious problem. But Knoy said there were problems even before then. “What separates us is our size,” he said. “We can’t survive on the numbers some of the smaller shipyards can.”

Knoy said ACL is still an extremely sound barge company. “ACL is still going strong,” he said. “It is the end of the Jeffboat era, but ACL is still very healthy.”

As to what will become of the Jeffboat facility, Knoy said no final decision has been made. “Don’t know what the future holds for that property yet,” he said. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, the shipyard spans 80 acres with one mile of riverfront.

About the author

Ken Hocke

Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    So, the end is coming for the historic Howard Steamboat Company, now JeffBoat in my hometown. Shame to see the end coming after 180-odd years. JeffBoat was my employer for several years in the early 1970s; worked as a First Class fitter on the custom vessel line. It was a job that let me thrive, but eventually the instability of winter work prompted me to move on.

    Sorry to see it go….once called the world’s largest inland ship yard…

    Godspeed, JeffBoat employees…

  2. Avatar
    Stanley Powers on

    I am one of the last crews to have lost my Job at Jeffboat .This ship yard has the equipment and ability to build anything that can float. On water ! I had 22years and Four months in this yard as test first class Welder and production welder .I would like to believe and say we could build something besides bardges .Yahts are very profitable.There is no limit to what we could achieve! Many of us lost our jobs because there unwavering from just bardges .We have built Towboats .In the war this yard built ships .I would like to ask Jeffboat if they could not find other alternatives !? I for one was proud of the name I was part. Of ( Jeffboat ) it was my livelyhood and even though we had a lot of winter days off and rain days I still made enough to support my family and pay my bills! I lost my Job April of 2018 due to shut down and lay off .We’re will we go now to pay what Jeffboat payed us ? I believe for one they really had planned to shut us down way before they did ! Jeffboat there are alternatives and I believe you didn’t turn over every rock you could because you really wanted to Get rid of us the working class!!!

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