In 2020, U.S. shipyards ended a three-year decline in new jumbo hopper barge construction despite the negative economic effects from Covid-19, according to River Transport News (RTN).

Last year saw improvement in U.S. economic activity, however deliveries of new hopper barges fell last year, RTN said in its Jan. 24 newsletter.

According to RTN’s annual survey of new hopper barge construction, barge operators on the Mississippi River System took delivery of 300 new jumbo hopper barges in 2021. Deliveries were down 22% from 385 new hopper barges delivered in 2020, RTN reported. RTN said that “new hopper barge building activity was subdued by recent historical standards.” In 2016, new hopper barge deliveries totaled nearly 1,000 barges.

RTN said that the primary reason for the dip in new barge construction last year were “skyrocketing steel prices.” 

The majority of hopper barges delivered to the inland marine sector in 2021 were from orders placed during the third or fourth quarters of 2020 or early in 2021, RTN reported. During this period, RTN said, the price of plate steel, the main component in hopper barge construction, was between $500 and $600 per ton. By the end of the first quarter, steel prices began to “skyrocket” with prices exceeding $1,000 per ton for the remainder of the year, which put the brakes on new hopper barge orders.

Shipyards “slowed deliveries” of existing orders to “preserve jobs and maintain existing shipyard viability.”

RTN reported that 12 barge owners/operators took delivery of new hopper equipment in 2021, down from 17 in 2020. Of the 12 companies that took delivery of new equipment last year, Florida Marine Transporters, Mandeville, La., led the way for the second year in a row. FMT took delivery of 80 new covered hopper barges in 2021. Heartland Fabrication built and delivered 50 and Arcosa Marine Products delivered 30, RTN said.

The new barges were a combination of purchased and chartered equipment. RTN said in its report that in 2020, FMT also led the industry in new hopper deliveries, adding 70 covered hopper barges to its fleet. All 70 were built by Heartland Fabrication.

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.