Although there is industry-wide agreement as to the need to develop intermodal short sea shipping in the US, there is great debate on just exactly how to accomplish the task. Conferences have been held, hundreds of reports have been written and literally thousands of examples studied worldwide. But the implementation of widespread intermodal short sea still remains an elusive.

By George Lauriat, AJOT

In the Northeast corridor, consisting of Port of New York/New Jersey, Albany, the Connecticut ports, Rhode Island, Massachusetts (Port of Boston), Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Maine (Portland), short sea shipping using container barges and container feeder ships has been in place (although with uneven results) for over twenty years. Columbia Coastal Transport has an operation that connects the Port of New York/New Jersey with the Port of Boston and Port of Portland, Maine. The region also has an Eimskip feeder service that runs between Halifax Nova Scotia, Portland, Portsmouth New Hampshire, and the Port of Boston.

Captain Jeff Monroe, Director of City of Portland’s Transportation & Waterfront, has a special insight into the short sea. Portland is Maine’s only box port. Most of Maine’s box business is funneled through the Port of Montreal Quebec, Port of Halifax Nova Scotia, Port of Boston or Port of New York/New Jersey. The box operation is small scale but looking to expand with the new Columbia Coastal barge service. Currently, the port is nearing completion (sometime around the beginning of the New Year) of a cruise terminal that will provide welcomed separation and additional space between the container facilities and the cruise/ferry service facilities. Portland’s experience has been mixed with short sea. Short sea services have come and gone, leaving shippers and the steamship lines supporting the services a bit jaded. Nevertheless there is freight to be moved and if for no other reason than geography, short sea is very appealing to shippers in the region. AJOT asked Captain Monroe, what conditions would be necessary to really make short sea work - to move SSS from being an intermodal novelty to mainstream? Captain Monroe’s belief is that short sea shipping ‘In reality it will take a soup-to-nuts provider to make SSS work,’ Captain Monroe said. ‘The economic & environmental advantages are obvious but to move the process forward it really needs a private sector player to step up to the plate.’ Monroe’s of the opinion that it doesn’t have to necessarily be an ocean carrier or even international in nature, ‘Maybe the trucking company from the industry or third party provider.’ ‘Right now there are many ocean boxes no longer fit for international trade that possibly could be used for an all-water domestic trade.’ Monroe also added the notion that from the port perspective the up front costs may not be a big an obstacle: ‘There maybe more flexibility and less expense in the system with mobile cranes and other portable equipment than most people think. With a lease/own mix the shore-side equipment expense could be relatively small.’

Massport’s Maritime Department Port Director is Mike Leone. The Port of Boston and Massport’s facilities have long been connected to the Port of New York/New Jersey and Canada by a variety of short sea services (Portland & Portsmouth as well). From another perspective Leone has headed up [the position rotates] the AAPA (American Association of Port Authorities). When Leone was asked what it would take to implement an effective short sea policy he explicitly said,

‘Short sea shipping is a good idea but transportation policy favors trucks. It [Short sea shipping] is a tough sell to truckers and rail interests. Because of the nature of the trade lanes SSS may or may not work on both ends.’ Like Monroe, Massport’s Leone agrees that, ‘We really need private stake to set