Sea Star, Crowley raise ante in Puerto Rico trade with new capacity

Sea Star, Crowley raise ante in Puerto Rico trade with new capacity

Sea Star Line and Crowley Maritime are adding container-on-barge capacity to the U.S. mainland-Puerto Rico trade lane that Jones Act competitor Horizon Lines exited at the end of December.

Crowley said it will add a flat-deck barge that will carry up to 400 forty-foot-equivalents between Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan, and is increasing capacity 40 percent on its North Atlantic-San Juan service. Sea Star said it will move up the launch of a weekly barge service on that route to Jan. 22. The service, using two barges with combined 800-FEU capacity, previously had been set for a Jan. 29 launch.

The carriers are seeking market share left up for grabs by the withdrawal of Horizon, which discontinued its Puerto Rico service and is awaiting regulatory approval for the sale of its remaining Hawaii and Alaska services.

Horizon carried about 30 percent of the volume in the U.S. mainland-Puerto Rico trade, which in recent years has slumped in tandem with the island’s stagnant economy and declining population.

The Puerto Rico market has been divided between the barge services of Crowley and Trailer Bridge, and the services of Horizon and Sea Star, which have used self-propelled ships.

Added barge competition from Sea Star and Crowley increases pressure on Trailer Bridge, which operates between Jacksonville and San Juan and is the market’s smallest carrier.

While adding container-on-barge capacity, Sea Star and Crowley are moving to replace older tonnage with new ships fueled by liquefied natural gas, which complies with newly stiffened emission rules.

TOTE, parent company of Sea Star, has ordered two LNG-powered vessels, each of which will have capacity of 3,100 twenty-foot-equivalent units.

“The new barge service will complement Sea Star Line's current two vessel calls per week and ultimately act as a bridge until the first of new Marlin Class vessels are delivered in October of this year," said Sea Star President Tim Nolan.

Crowley is building two vessels powered by liquefied natural gas to replace its 1970s-vintage triple-decked barges. The combination container/roll-on, roll-off ships will carry up to 2,400 TEUs and 400 vehicles.

Sea Star newly chartered barges will operate weekly, with departures from Jacksonville and San Juan every Thursday, with transit times of six days. The carrier said its barges are configured to carry dry and refrigerated containers. The carrier said it will add more than 2,300 pieces of equipment during the next month to support the additional capacity and bolster existing services.

Crowley’s additional barge will provide the carrier with a fourth weekly sailing between Jacksonville and San Juan. Crowley currently has six triple-deck ro-ro barges on the Jacksonville-San Juan route.

The carrier also is boosting capacity its weekly service Puerto Rico service from Pennsauken, New Jersey, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, by replacing its existing 580-foot, triple-deck barges on that route with with larger, recently modified 730-foot, triple-deck barges.

Crowley said it will place the flat deck barge into service on a two-week rotation once it has been outfitted for container carriage.

To support the increased capacity in both services, Crowley will add over 6,000 pieces of cargo carrying equipment including a combination of dry and reefer containers and chassis.

“With the changes in the marketplace, we expect strong demand for space on our vessels, and we are stepping up to provide improved capacity, equipment and sailing frequency to benefit our customers,” said John Hourihan, senior vice president and general manager, Puerto Rico.

Contact Joseph Bonney at jbonney@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @JosephBonney.