Short-sea shipping is alive and well

I read with interest Peter Tirschwell's column on "short-sea" shipping (Nov. 24-30 issue). Just a note to advise that "short-sea" shipping (at least by my definition) is alive and well on the U.S. East and Gulf coasts! Columbia Coastal handles intermodal traffic up and down the East Coast, and Osprey Line covers a large part of the Gulf.

Both operations use the terminology of "container on barge," and it is my understanding that they are very successful. They also handle breakbulk, roll-on, roll-off, and project-type cargoes.

We are in the process of starting our own container-on-barge service from Beaumont to Houston's Barbours Cut terminal, which in time will take hundreds of trucks off heavily traveled Interstate 10.

Keep up the good work! We enjoy your publication and the discussion of transport issues it invites from a very-educated and informed audience.

Ernest Bezdek

Port of Beaumont, Texas

Government role needed to expand short-sea network

Immersing your publication in issues such as short-sea shipping is a rather daunting task, and I applaud the JoC's efforts in all of the areas you are pursuing.

I just wanted to clarify a misperception in the article entitled "Defining the Term Short-Sea." (Peter Tirschwell column, Nov. 24-30). Although railroads have been crucial to the fostering of true intermodal services on the land side, Columbia Coastal has had the leading role on the waterborne side. You mentioned that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's Port Inland Distribution Network serving the New York-Albany corridor has been slow to develop, but our barges move almost 200,000 containers per year system-wide along the East and Gulf coasts. Of the freight we move, 99.9 percent is international cargo that moves domestically in feeder service offering alternate port bills of lading for steamship lines.

Our flat-deck barges, which permit stacking of containers five-high, provides us with economies of scale over roll-on, roll-off operations in which 48- and 43-foot containers or trailers cannot be stacked.

To carry this type of freight on ro-ro barges, we (or anyone else) would have to build specially designed vessels, acquire waterfront land, maintain operating capital, and package the system that will move freight cheaper and/or faster than current means. Otherwise, it will never be supported by the domestic shipping community. Building such a system is and always will be beyond the reach of private industry.

In my humble opinion, the real crux of short-sea shipping is not that it does not exist, but that an expansion of the current system will require public resources because private industry is moving as much freight as is economically viable.

The social benefits (safety, reduced pollution, alleviation of congestion alleviation, etc.) from routing additional freight to the water can be attained only through the government's support.

Short-sea shipping development is in our nation's interest to supplement, not replace, existing modes of transportation and ease an already-strained network. Until that happens, accidents and congestion on our highways will continue to burgeon with no relief in sight.

Donovan R. Murray

General manager,

Government affairs-projects

Columbia Coastal Transport LLC