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Ports & Terminals

New APM Terminals in Plaquemines shows importance of Gulf Ports and Marine Highway

Sandy Sanders, executive director, Plaquemines Port Harbor & Terminal District (PPHTD), says the Port’s planned APM Terminal will demonstrate the importance of Gulf Coast ports as means of reducing port congestion while the Port’s support of a new Marine Highway service will demonstrate the advantage of moving large numbers of containerized imports and exports off congested highways and on to waterborne transport.

On November 17th, the Plaquemines Port, Harbor and Terminal District, located South of New Orleans, and APM Terminals announced a ‘Letter of Intent,” whereby APM Terminals “will become the operator of the newly planned container terminal and intermodal rail facility.”

The site for the new APM container terminal located in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana is on the Mississippi River, 50 nautical miles from the Gulf of Mexico.

The full build-up for the container port is projected at $1 billion, according to a PPHTD official.

APM Terminals is a subsidiary of A.P.Moller-Maersk, which also owns Maersk the Danish ocean container carrier.

In an interview with AJOT, Sanders summarized the waterborne strategy for the Port’s APM Terminal:

“It has taken the pandemic to show us that the supply chain is broken as a result of port congestion and that we need to look at alternatives such as Gulf Coast ports and moving more containers by water … and also giving Midwest customers better ocean shipping access through a modern container terminal, without air draft restrictions (such as bridges), on the Lower Mississippi with close proximity to the Gulf.”

The APMT’s modal mix of container transport is projected to be up to 40% by water with the remaining 60% to be split between rail and harbor trucking, Sanders said.

Sanders said that when he took over as executive director of the PPHTD he sought to build relationships with other Mississippi river ports to find a means to collaborate on a joint market strategy.

Sanders said Chris Fetters, chief executive officer for DEVCO 23, helped the Port develop a strategy that ultimately led to attracting APMT. The Port was able to convince APMT that the Port’s proximity to the Gulf was an important asset.

Louisiana 23 Development Company, LLC (Devco) is the exclusive private development partner for Plaquemines Port supporting development of rail, warehousing and utilities.

Proposed American Patriot Marine Highway Service

Sanders said a collaboration with American Patriot Holdings (APH) alerted his team to the potential of linking Mississippi river ports such as St Louis and Memphis by water transport and embracing the Marine Highway concept championed by officials at the U.S. Maritime Administration and, most recently, by U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

APH plans a service using a state-of-the art fast river carrier to transport import containers carrying retail merchandise up the river from the Plaquemines Port and then transporting agricultural export containers for the return journey.

Sanders said the APH service will shift containers off of highways and on to waterborne vessels featuring 2,375 TEU container river carriers that American Patriot Holdings (APH) plans to build serving larger ports such as St Louis and Memphis.

The ability to move large numbers of containers by water will provide a competitive cost advantage versus trucking:

A smaller vessel with a 1,900 TEU capacity “will be used to link the Port to smaller ports located on Mississippi River tributaries such as Little Rock and Western Arkansas. The smaller vessel will have a draft of 7 feet.”

Sanders said that American Patriot Holdings will have “exclusivity” in the operation of waterborne container services from the Plaquemines APM Terminal.

Sal Litrico is the chief executive officer of American Patriot Container Transport. He told AJOT that he has been meeting with shipyards this week who will be bidding on the construction of the new river carriers.

Litrico graduated from the State University of New York Maritime College in 1977, with Bachelor of Science Degree in Marine Transportation Management.

He said that the initial plan is to build four river carriers that will have a loaded capacity of 1300 TEUs each and run river transport services between the Plaquemines Port and a terminal at Memphis, Tennessee that will be announced very soon.

The new terminal will utilize container handling equipment to unload and load two vessels at one time.

Litrico projects that the vessels will require 2 days sailing northbound to Memphis, one day in port for loading and unloading, then two days southbound to Plaquemines Parish and one day in port loading and unloading for a total round trip of 6 days.

He says that the current container on barge technology on the Mississippi is too slow and lacks sufficient capacity to move cargo in the timely manner required by shippers to provide fast and scheduled service.

Litrico hopes to demonstrate necessary level of reliability and speed with the four vessels that will be deployed in the Plaquemines-Memphis service:

“We are bringing state-of-the art technology and enhancements to the Mississippi River with a purpose-built vessel that will provide speed and reliability and change the paradigm of waterborne transportation using a design that has been extensively tested in Europe and will be powered by natural gas to reduce emissions.”

Dallas County Inland Port

Chris Fetters told AJOT that the Port has been working with the Dallas County Inland Port to provide an intermodal rail link for Dallas and Central Texas companies to ship containers to and from the Plaquemines APM Terminal.

Dallas County Inland Port is is an intermodal and logistics district that encompasses 7,500 acres and 5 municipalities, according to its website, and boasts the following advantages:

  • The confluence of three major railroad networks (Union Pacific, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, and Kansas City Southern).
  • Direct access to three major interstate highways (I-35, I-20 & I-45) with all major North American markets accessible within 48 hours by truck.
  • The Union Pacific Dallas Intermodal Terminal in southern Dallas County provides intermodal access to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
  • Foreign Trade Zone 39 and its alternative site management framework allows for “usage-driven” trade zone sites in the Dallas County Inland Port area.
  • Major Dallas County Inland Port tenants include Amazon, Home Depot, L’Oreal and National Tire & Battery.

Sanders is hopeful that a rail link can be developed to support intermodal container moves between the Plaquemines Port and Dallas utilizing the Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads.

The Port hopes to convince the two railroads that the new terminal will attract sufficient rail capacity to make the service profitable for the railroads.

APM Terminal

According to an earlier APM press release: “The proposed, environmentally-friendly, state-of-the-art container terminal, will be powered by a combination of LNG and electricity. It will encompass up to 1,000 acres and 8,200 feet of Mississippi River frontage. Special focus will be on utilizing modern infrastructure technology for withstanding storm surge and wind damage. Phase One of construction is expected to last two years and will deliver the capability to handle 22,000-TEU class vessels with the ability to expand capacity if needed.”

Brian Harold, managing director, APMT Terminals Mobile, Alabama told AJOT that APMT’s experiences at the Port of Mobile demonstrated that there was a viable market for accessing imports and exports through Gulf ports including Houston, New Orleans, Mobile and Tampa providing a “Third Coast” for shippers in the South and Midwest. This Third Coast will soon include the Plaquemines Port which will increase opportunities for shippers to benefit from ocean shipping services linking them to Asia and Europe as an alternative to West and East Coast ports.

Harold said APMT plan for the Plaquemines terminal is to begin operations with 4 and possibly 6 ship to shore gantry cranes. This will provide service for 1-2 ships with a capacity of 8,500 to 10,000 TEUs.

As volumes increase, he expects larger vessels will utilize the terminal.

Harold noted that Maersk was only one of many possible carriers that would use the terminal. The terminal would be open to all ocean carriers.

Tom Boyd, Maersk media relations manager for North America, told AJOT that Maersk sees great potential in the new APMT/ Plaquemines venture.

Harold said cargo-handling would be supported by rubber tire gantry cranes and straddle carriers to complement the ship to shore gantry cranes. The rubber tired gantry cranes (RTGC) is a large machine designed to load and unload containers at the container yard. The machine can transfer the containers onto trucks or within container stacks according to rows and tiers.

APMT is working with the International Longshore Association to conclude an agreement for the longshore workers who will operate the terminal.

Harold explained that the current Panama Canal expansion only allows passage of vessels up to 14,000 TEUs and so this would be the upward limit of the APM terminal’s capacity for ships transiting to Asia. The terminal will have the capacity to handle vessels of up to 22,000 TEUs.

Defending Against Storm Surges & Flooding

Sanders said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (U.S.A.C.E.) will focus on bolstering levees around the site and connecting infrastructure.

To reduce the risk of flooding of the terminal site and surrounding area, U.S.A.C.E. is building a new federal levee system, according to the Port. This system will bring the existing flood protection from a 4-foot height to a new and robust 14-foot height and will tie back into the Mississippi River levees at a height of 15 feet. Once completed, the system will be able to protect the site from devastating storm surges similar to those of Hurricane Ida. Construction of the flood protection profile is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2023.

Stas Margaronis
Stas Margaronis


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