New inland tank barge deliveries during the first half of 2020 has outpaced deliveries for the same period in 2019.

Barge operators on the Mississippi River and its tributaries took delivery of 78 new inland tank barges during the first half of this year, according to River Transport News’s midyear survey of new inland tank barge delivery and vessel documentation activity. “In terms of hulls, these deliveries were up 56% from the 50 inland tank barges delivered during the first half of 2019. Inland tank barges delivered in the first half of 2020 represented 1.624 million bbls. of aggregate capacity, up 47.3% from the 1.103 million bbls. of new inland capacity delivered during the comparable year-ago period,” RTN said.

While the numbers aren’t that impressive, it may signal that the industry has learned a valuable lesson about overbuilding. Industry orders peaked about five years ago, fueled by low steel prices and favorable investment terms. Then the bottom fell out of the coal industry and the energy downturn set in. There were too many barges and not enough demand.

The drastic drop in demand forced the oldest and largest inland shipyard in the U.S., Jeffersonville, Ind.-based Jeffboat, to close its doors after more than a century of operation. Other shipyards were affected too.

Through June of this year, the majority of the new barges delivered were 30,000-bbl. bottoms. Forty of them were delivered in the six-month period, compared to 27 during the first half of 2019.

Arcosa Marine Products was still in the initial ramp-up stage of restarting production at its Madisonville, La., shipyard during the first half of 2019. The shipyard delivered its first new tank barge to Houston-based E Squared Marine Service LLC last July, then went on to deliver 66% of the industry’s 30,000-bbl. inland tank barges for the remainder of 2019, according to RTN.

“Deliveries of new 10,000-bbl. tank barge equipment also increased substantially during the first half of 2020, relative to the year-ago period, with new deliveries increasing to 31 from 17. Even with the substantial year-over-year increase in 10,000-bbl. tank barge deliveries, the pace during the first half of this year was well behind that needed to match last year’s full year delivery total of 83,” RTN said.

In terms of new hulls, Ingram Barge Co. took delivery of 13 new tank barges during the first half of 2020, more than any other company. Marathon Petroleum was the leading recipient of new inland tank barge equipment during the first half of 2020 in terms of aggregate capacity, taking delivery of 12 new 30,000-bbl. tank barges during the first half of this year, according to RTN.

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.