American Feeder Lines Going Out of Business

Peter T. Leach, Senior Editor | Apr 27, 2012 1:00PM GMT
The Journal of Commerce Online - News Story
| Short Sea/Barge
| Container Shipping

Company had suspended feeder service out of Halifax this week

American Feeder Lines, which suspended its 9-month-old feeder service from Halifax to Portland, Me. and Boston this week, is going out of business.

“We had to pull the plug because there was not enough volume on the service,” Said Rudy Mack, chief operating officer of the New York-based carrier. “You need a certain cash flow to run this service. We don’t have it today. We won’t have it tomorrow.”

Mack said the German investors who had helped launch the company last year were no longer willing to subsidize the money-losing operation. “So we decided to close it. Otherwise it would be irresponsible to bleed money away without the hope to break even within the near future.”

AFL started the Halifax-Boston service last July with a chartered vessel called the AFL New England with a capacity of 700 20-foot-equivalent units.

The carrier had hoped to build up to 10 container ships in the U.S. and launch weekly short-sea services that would link up to 18 ports under the Jones Act.

“The short-sea, Jones Act idea has died,” Mack said. “If you can’t run a feeder service from Halifax to Boston and Portland, how will you be able to run other short-sea services?”

Wow, I had hopes for this. Died faster than I thought it would.

The failure of AFL is no surprise at all. It certainly would have been a very big surprise if this feeder ship concept had been successful. A coastal container feeder service is much better suited to a tug and barge. The tug and barge services serving Alaska from Seattle have proven this over many years. If the Portland and Boston region were generating enough container volume to justify a feeder service to Halifax, a tug and barge operation would already be providing the service at much lower cost than a ship.

Delete repeat post.

The container run to puerto rico is a more valid comparison. Crowley dominates with their barges and shipping companies have tried and failed to compete. The difference is that in Alaska, the ports are too shallow to allow container ships in.

Trailerbridge is another that has seen many ups and downs over the years.

Depth normally is not the problem it’s freight volume, most cities in SE Alaska do not have over 20,000 people. We leave twice a week with about 600 teu’s for SE AK. The summer time gets busy with the fish haul back though. Here’s the latest.

Crowley is losing millions on the PR run. No volume, no profit (barge or ship).

[QUOTE=Capt. Phoenix;68544]The difference is that in Alaska, the ports are too shallow to allow container ships in.[/QUOTE]

The only shallow water in Alaska is north of the Peninsula and the freight volumes there are not at all conducive for a ship*. The one thing that a ship can offer that a tug/barge can’t is speed and frequency of service. There is no problem at all of building a barge that can carry every number of containers or other cargo that a ship can at a fraction of the cost.

The sad fact is that as long as no major American trucking company gets behind a coastwise container service by ship then there never will be a “Marine Highway”. I actually don’t believe that even if a major trucking company got behind the idea that it would be successful hence why the AMHI is nothing more than useless blather.

It ain’t never gonna happen my friend!

  • if energy in the Arctic offshore takes off however, all bets are off regarding shipping north through the Bering Strait. It honestly might work out much better for Shell to literally bring the cargo all the way to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas rather than transship in Dutch Harbor. There has even been talk of an Arctic version of Fourchon but the cost to build it would be ASTRONOMICAL! Still if there really is the 29billion barrels of oil up there, even numbers we might consider as astronomical might actually be quite realistic. Just the environmental hurdles would be unbelievable. I wonder what 15 years from now will look like up there?

btw…do you know that at one time back in the late 50’s, there was serious talk of using a nuclear device to “excavate” an artificial harbor in the high arctic? Seriously, there was! Betcha now they wished they had done it when they had the chance!


Evidently in many cases the tug and barge is cheaper but I wonder why don’t see more tug and barges outside the U.S. Most tows I see are either low value cargo for example the barges used inside Tokyo Bay or they are huge pieces of equipment that can not fit on a conventional ship.I don’t recall ever seeing a container barge anywhere in the world except the United States (Seattle to Alaska, Hawaii or to San Juan P.R.)

The coastwise traffic one encounters overseas is almost exclusively small ships.There are small tankers, containerships, LNG etc, they have the same design as the ocean-going vessels, just smaller.

There are a few barges inside the Persian Gulf but even there lots of cargo is moved by dhows. The only time you see a tug pulling a barge loaded with containers in the open ocean it is U.S. to U.S. port.


As far as I know, the US is the only “developed” country that allows uninspected tugs. Tugs are definitely inspected vessels in Canada and Europe.

I suspect that foreign governments do not allow their inspected tugs and barges to be used as undermanned “rulebeaters” the way the uninspected tugs are in the US. The foreign tugs that I have seen have ten men (where the same type of US tug would have five men). The foreign tugs appear to have the same amount of crew as those small foreign ships.

Its been a long time, but the last time I was tied up alongside the SEASPAN COMMADORE (Canadian tug), they had two mates (who stood watch 6 and 6), and more crew than I could count without taking off my shoes. They had a real union and the wages and benefits were also a lot higher than on US tugs. It was also equipped much more like a ship than most US tugs are.

Its been a long time, but the last time I was in Japan even the harbor tugs had 10 men, so did the little 100’ tanker that came alongside to bunker us.

If US tugs had to be properly inspected, manned, and equipped, the same as the a small inspected US ship, there would be a lot less tugs.

10 guys on a tug! That would suck, the Canadians run close to what the us does. Many of the harbor tugs only are 2 man crewed. If a Canadian tug is over 1200hp it requires an engineer. That is why you see alot of the smaller tugs use selectable power bands on their small tugs to “rulebeat” the engineer onboard. I also just heard a rumor the uscg mandated that Crowley have 3 engineers on the little tug point thompson for their trip to Russia.

Yes, the Canadians, I 'm thinking of those Seasapan (?) tugs I’d meet outside Vancouver Island, but wood chips I think, low value cargo. I think there is some controversy recently in Canada regarding manning on escort tugs.

Also that big log barge. But that is mostly inside work.


Japan is a special case with regards to manning, I think they want everyone to have a job? If you pull into a gas stations 4 guy swarm your car to service it.

[QUOTE=tugsailor;71345]If US tugs had to be properly inspected, manned, and equipped, the same as the a small inspected US ship, there would be a lot less tugs.[/QUOTE]

Actually, US tugs have always been inspected under subchapter I (cargo & miscellaneous vessels) if over 200grt. It just happens that US tugs out there somehow manage to all be 199tons no matter how big they are. Are the principles of naval architecture amazing! Of course, all are also manned based on being a “small” tug in the eyes of the USCG and not as a 9000hp 50m brute! Blame the industry for using tonnage openings and other “tricks” to ensure they can man their vessels with the minimum legal number required. An uninspected 199ton tug will legally require 5 men but the same 201 ton tug would likely require 9 or even 10 maybe!

Sorry rshrew, I don’t meant to disparage all towing companies and I hope Western Towboat operates to a higher level than the barest minimum. 7 or 8 to me is good manning for a large tug on a 600+mi voyage.


Actually the threshold is 299. 300 and over is inspected.

[QUOTE=cappy208;71391]Actually the threshold is 299. 300 and over is inspected.[/QUOTE]

I oftened wondered about that…

so why the hell was the OUTV license set at 200tons?

That’s right. 300 gross register tons is the magic number for inspection of tugs. To avoid inspection the tug must be under 300 tons.

A lot of the old (WWII era) tugs are 299 tons. (An old 110 foot 1200 hp wooden Miki tug is apt to be just under 299 GRT.) All you have to do is count the staterooms and bunks on an old tug to find out how many crew they were designed to operate with. Some of the bigger new tractor tugs are also 299 GRT. Other than the old timers, I have seen very few tugs over 199 GRT.

The reason that most tugs are under 200 GRT actually has nothing to do with inspection. Its because a licensed engineer is required above 200 GRT. If I recall correctly, the rules required two licensed engineers for certain voyages. Tug companies prefer to be able to make any low wage OS into an instant “deckineer” instead of paying for a licensed engineer. No other country in the world creates its tug engineers this way.

Actually, that is another very good reason that most tugs are under 199 GRT. Or is it that OUTV was set at 200 because the vast majority of tugs are under 199? Chicken or egg?

Or maybe in some twisted sense of USCG logic it was thought that if a tug was over 200 and required a licensed engineer, then it also had to require a master and mate instead of just an OUTV.

It was not! Everyone had a OUTV with a restriction to vessels less than 200 tons. OUTV was by definition just that… Uninspected Operator! No tonnage notation. But to get a ‘larger than 200 ton license’ one had to have sea time over 200 tons. They closed this stupid loophole when they started the MOTV system.

For instance I had an ‘improperly worded’ license issued when I first got my OUTV: ‘licensed to operate UTV’s (less than 200 tons) upon nearcoastal waters, also operator of uninspected towing vessels upon near coastal waters.’ They made a mistake when typing out the license.

It should have read: ‘licensed to operate UTV’s (less than 200 tons) upon nearcoastal waters, also operator of uninspected towing vessels upon inland waters.’

I never understood this for about 10 years. Then when the company I was working for bought a tug over 200 tons, I asked REC Boston for an interpretation of my license and they said I was good to go for near coastwise operations over 200 (up to 299)!