Jeffboat LLC, one of the most prolific barge builders in the U.S., is closing its doors, according to a post on Teamsters Local 89’s website. The barge builder is the manufacturing unit of American Commercial Barge Lines, a subsidiary of American Commercial Lines Inc. ACL is owned by Platinum Equity LLC, which purchased the company in 2010 for approximately $800 million. ACL said Jeffboat would close by early May.
“It is with heavy hearts that we confirm reports that Jeffboat, the nation's largest inland shipbuilder and one of Local 89's oldest companies, is shutting down. Over the last several years, the shipbuilding industry has seen a massive decline and while this cycle has occurred in decades past, this time it was unfortunately too much for the company to bear,” the statement said in part.
The Jeffersonville, Ind., yard was established in 1834. Late last year, shipyard officials began wholesale layoffs, saying half of 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 lay off 226 positions by April but had no plans to close the facility. Plans obviously changed.
"It's a very sad day for a lot of hard working, shipbuilding craftsmen and craftswomen," said union business agent Jim Kincaid, a former worker at Jeffboat. "I worked beside a lot of these folks for many years through the most extreme weather anybody can imagine. They always delivered the best barge or towboat in the industry. They poured their heart and souls into it. They took pride in their work and built some of the best vessels on the rivers and oceans. Words can't express how saddened we are that this historical ship yard is closing its doors."
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. That's when the slowdown led to a shutdown.
"For me this is heartbreaking news that the boat yard will be closing. Like so many others, I started my career there as a young man working as a first class welder and pipefitter. I have met so many great people over the course of time there," union business agent and recording secretary Jeff Cooper, also a former worker at Jeffboat, said. "When I say great people, that's exactly what I mean, people that work extremely hard at building a great big-ass American made product the old-fashioned way like no other, and it was always built under the union label with extreme pride."
Kincaid said the union would do everything in its power to find its members other jobs and help them to pick up the pieces. "They are good, hardworking folks. They will be an asset to anybody who hires them in the future."
Jeffboat is the nation's largest inland shipyard, according to its website. It's also billed as the longest continually operated shipyard in the U.S. In addition to the construction of inland barges, the yard has built towboats and oceangoing vessels and handled a wide range of drydock, repair, and machining services.
Located on the banks of the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, the shipyard spans 80 acres with one mile of riverfront.