Trade thinking of Millennials

Off road: forward-thinking cross harbour service links New York's Red Hook Container Terminal by water to New Jersey. Credit: Red Hook Terminal Off road: forward-thinking cross harbour service links New York's Red Hook Container Terminal by water to New Jersey. Credit: Red Hook Terminal

COMMENT: Maritime business always presents a conflict between old and new; as New York basked in warm weather, I heard about generational change at a Connecticut Maritime Association (CMA) lunch; but later the same day, celebrated old tugboats at a big dinner hosted by the Working Harbor Committee, writes Barry Parker.

As highlighted by CMA luncheon speaker Bob Kunkel from Alternative Marine Technologies (Amtech), the industry is seeing attitudinal shifts through what he termed “generational change”. Though vessels were the focus of Mr Kunkel’s speech, the port angle came through strongly.

Amtech has made important inroads with the Connecticut Port Authority in its efforts to create a fleet of vessels with hybrid power that will transport food products around Long Island Sound between New York and Connecticut. As Mr Kunkel advances the business, he has benefited from support from the Connecticut Port Authority - formed in the wake of traffic losses at ports in the region - which is acting as a sponsor in efforts to garner Federal funds under MARAD’s Marine Highway program.

New York’s Working Harbor Committee attracts a different crowd, which is focused on a larger port, but one that must also be sensitive to changes in trade patterns and societal opinions.

In Mr Kunkel’s lunchtime talk, he acknowledged the difficulties when ships try to compete with landside transportation, notably trucks. Yet, the tide has turned in the Upper Bay, where the new container on barge service- yes, using aging tugboats, links consumption centres in Brooklyn (a pathway to populous local markets) with the container docks in New Jersey. The Cross Harbor barge service has received designation as a Marine Highway program, a conduit to Federal funding going forward.

But back to new generations. For today's generation, road transportation is not paying its way as fuel efficiencies mean that less money is raised from taxes on gasoline and for diesel fuel. Also, distribution patterns are changing taking a shift towards more local markets, even around the New York area.

Planners from the big ports should take a close look at developments at the smaller ports of Bridgeport and New Haven, where pilot projects (such as those of Amtech) are gaining real traction. Of course, bigger ports have bigger fish to fry in the form of the 12,000+ teu containerships. However, supply chains never stay the same.

“Farm to table, as in Amtech’s Norwalk to Port Jefferson (New York) service, will certainly not completely overwhelm port calls of mega-ships. But, the long range planners at the larger industrial companies, and at ports serving them, should give the habits of the Millennials - the "new" kids on the block with a much more local mindset - more than a passing glance.

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