Shipyard solicitation out for new river container vessels

Written by Nick Blenkey
River container vessel

Vessels are designed with two patented features, an exoskeleton hull structure that limits lightship weight and a minimal wake bow structure.

Plans for a new all-water container-on-vessel (COV) trade lane between the Port of Plaquemines on the Lower Mississippi and the Midwest are picking up pace.

Hawtex Development Corporation has signed on as the lead developer for a new St. Louis region COV port in Herculaneum, Mo., in the St. Louis region. At the same time, American Patriot Container Transport LLC reports that it has issued a solicitation to seven U.S. shipyards for construction of four of the innovative river container vessels that will provide the new COV service. The call for submissions, which includes an option for four additional vessels, was issued December 14 and proposals are due at the end of February.

“The new partnerships being forged today and the advancements we’re making toward construction of the new vessels represent another huge step forward for this unique supply chain option that will reduce transportation costs for shippers by approximately 30 to 40%,” said American Patriot Container Transport CEO Sal Litrico. “The Mississippi River is ice free and lock free from the St. Louis region all the way south to the Gulf Coast, enabling us to bring our new vessels with the capacity to carry 2,375 TEU containers right into the heart of the Midwest, and this new port facility will be developed specifically to be able to handle those vessels and containers.”

In addition to the 2,375 TEU vessels, American Patriot Container Transport is also planning a series of smaller 1,800 TEU “hybrid” vessels designed to move through locks and low-lying bridges on the tributary rivers, providing service to feeder ports along the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers in the St. Louis region and other upstream ports, including ports in Kansas City and Jefferson City in Missouri and in Joliet and Cairo in Illinois and Fort Smith in Arkansas.

Developed by Vancouver, B.C.-based Naviform Consulting and Research Ltd., both vessels are designed with two patented features, an exoskeleton hull structure that limits the vessels’ lightship weight to maximize cargo payload, and a minimal wake bow structure that minimizes hull resistance to allow an upriver speed of 13 miles per hour with minimal wake.

Expected round trip times to Memphis is six days and St. Louis in 10 days, significantly faster than traditional barge tows. The vessels will also be environmentally friendly, utilizing LNG (liquefied natural gas) power, and cargo flexible with ability to carry a diversity of cargo, including refrigerated containers.


Initial plans for the project first emerged back in 2017 when American Patriot Holdings LLC (APH), the parent company of American Patriot Container Transport LLC, and Plaquemines Port Harbor & Terminal District (PPHTD) in Louisiana first announced plans to develop anew intermodal container terminal on the lower Mississippi River able to accommodate both the largest Post-Panamax containerships and the new river container vessels.

Plans for the Port of Plaquemines terminal have been progressing steadily since then. Meantime, Hawtex Development Corporation, which has operations in Texas and Hawaii, has been working with American Partiot Holdings over the past several years to help in identifying and establishing market-ready locations for Mississippi River intermodal container facilities, with an initial focus on the Memphis and St. Louis regions. In the St. Louis region, the Herculaneum site that is already home to Fred Weber/RCP’s current port facility and adjacent to the parcel owned by the Doe Run Company emerged as the most advantageous site to develop a state-of-the-art intermodal container facility to serve this central Midwest region for both the export and import of containerized cargo.

“Through this new collaboration with our partners here in Jefferson County, Hawtex is looking forward to leading the development team for the planned facility on the Mississippi River at Herculaneum,” said James Hurley, president of Hawtex Development Corporation. “We will be leading discussions with RCP and the Doe Run Company principals to complete a comprehensive development agreement beginning early in the new year, and we will be meeting with and confirming service requirements for a number of St. Louis-based and regional beneficial cargo owners throughout Q1 of 2022. Our goal is to bring this facility to operating status in Q4 of 2024.”


The facility is in the early stages of development and the new partnership allows all parties to start planning efforts that enable final investment decisions. The total amount of the investment to be made at the new port is yet to be determined.

“Given the supply chain disruption we’ve seen over the past two years and the continuing congestion at the West Coast ports, there is no question that shippers need alternatives,” said Mary Lamie, Executive Vice President of Multi Modal Enterprises for Bi-State Development and head of the St. Louis Regional Freightway, which has been working to build relationships with other Midwest ports over the past few years to help advance the COV initiative. “This is a new option to transport freight. The state of Missouri and the St. Louis region already play a critical role as a reliever during supply chain disruptions and our freight advantages are fueling this new opportunity to elevate the Mississippi River and the Missouri River’s role in global trade.”

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