Jeffboat launches 12,917th – and final – vessel

In a subdued event that some likened to a funeral, the last barge built at Jeffboat slid down the ways into the Ohio River April 23, three weeks before the Jeffersonville, Ind., shipyard is to close permanently.

One of the nation’s biggest inland shipyards and its oldest, with roots going back more than 180 years to the early steamboat trade, Jeffboat in recent years employed up to 800 workers building dry and tank barges and other vessels.

“Jeffboat did more than build barges,” Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore told television station WHAS-11. “They built the city of Jeffersonville.”

But overbuilding in the barge sector and subsequent oversupply finally hit Jeffboat. Falling orders led to layoffs that accelerated through 2017. With another 226 jobs up for elimination in April, parent company American Commercial Lines (owned by Platinum Equities LLC) decided the diminished business was no longer sustainable.

“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, told WorkBoat then. “In reality, it just didn’t appear that was going to happen. It was just too much of a financial struggle.”

A banner on the last barge launched at Jeffboat was a tribute to the Indiana shipyard's workers. Teamsters Local 89 photo.

A banner on the last barge launched at Jeffboat was a tribute to the Indiana shipyard’s workers. Teamsters Local 89 photo.

About 75 people gathered on Monday morning to watch the final launch, the last of  12,917 vessels built at Jeffboat. On the side of the barge hung a banner that read:

“Thank you for your hard work, dedication and exemplary craftsmanship for Jeffboat to build the best barges, towboats and special vessels on the water.”

Mayor Moore says he has proposed to ACL that the company could donate the 80-acre riverfront property, obtain tax benefit for the gift and in exchange the city could take on environmental testing and cleanup – with the goal of commercial and residential redevelopment.

 

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About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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