California-based National Shipping of America announced Wednesday the start of the “Isla Verde Express,” a service that will connect Puerto Rico with the western United States via Houston every two weeks, staring May 29.
The first Houston-to-San Juan trip take place on the National Glory, a U.S. flagged container vessel with a capacity of 570 TEU — maritime industry-speak for twenty-foot equivalent container units — including 96 plugs for refrigerated containers.
The ship will head back to Houston out of the San Juan port on June 4, company officials said.
“After careful market analysis, we found that shippers west of the Mississippi River have few options to move cargo to and from Puerto Rico without having to use an East Coast port,” said Torey Presti, president of NSA.
The shipper will enter a market currently served by four other companies: Crowley, Horizon Lines, Sea Star and Trailer Bridge.
“A significant percentage of the mainland-Puerto Rico cargo is from Texas and the western states. By calling Houston, we offer a central U.S. location, which together with synchronized intermodal connections, enhances the options for shippers and keeps their supply chains predictable and steady,” he said.
The goal of the service is to provide customers with reliability, responsiveness, and transparency, Presti said.
“NSA is a small organization, but we have partnered with best-in-class companies to provide customers with outstanding personal service,” he added. Partners include general agent Norton Lilly, and intermodal provider Interdom.
Attemps to reach Ports Authority Executive Director Víctor Suárez for comment on the impact this new service will have on the economy and the island were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Modern, ‘green’ vessel
The National Glory will be the most modern and greenest vessel in the U.S.-Puerto Rico trade, upgraded in 2007 and configured for both containers and out-of-gauge cargo. It uses low-sulfur diesel oil to minimize the impact on air quality.
A unique feature of the service will be its transparent and easily understood fuel charge: it’s based on the most recent market conditions (adjusted quarterly) and vessel utilization. For a given price of fuel, the higher the vessel utilization, the lower the fuel charge per container assessed to the customer, NSA explained.
The IVE will call at the most flexible terminals in Houston and San Juan, offering direct rail links and value-added services such as warehousing, crossdocking, transloading, and bagging.
Cargo will discharge from the vessel and be available both in Houston and San Juan early on Tuesdays. This provides the rest of the week for delivery to distribution centers or onward intermodal transport without a weekend delay. The service will offer synchronized intermodal rail connections to and from major load centers and distribution hubs throughout the western U.S., including Los Angeles, Oakland, and Stockton.
Horizon Lines is the only other other carrier that provides a Houston-to-San Juan maritime connection. That said, NSA will offer its service in alternate weeks, complementing that service.
“The Isla Verde Express will help shippers maintain a consistent product flow to and from Puerto Rico,” Presti said. “That is vitally important to meet the demands of this unique island trade.”
Typical commodities shipped to Puerto Rico include resins, rice, beans, chemicals, beverages, and produce. From Puerto Rico, the U.S. mainland receives medical supplies, foodstuffs, and beverages.
In addition to dry and refrigerated containers, the National Glory is configured to accommodate a wide range of oversize, out-of-gauge, and project cargo. Examples include construction materials, machinery, and large vehicles.