Just as Puerto Rico businesses are starting to feel the pinch of a slowdown in merchandise imports in the wake of Horizon Lines’ exit from the market, maritime shipper Crowley announced Thursday the addition of a new flat-deck barge capable of carrying up to 400 loads.
The barge is scheduled to arrive in San Juan on Monday with a full load of cargo for the island. The vessel’s deployment “marks an important milestone in Crowley’s rapid response to the sudden departure of Horizon Lines from the Puerto Rico trade,” the company said.
Since mid December, Crowley has, through a number of service enhancements, created additional weekly cargo carrying capacity for about 780 loads — or 78 percent the 1,000 loads previously transported by Horizon Lines in an average week, the carrier said.
In recent days, the lack of products — especially refrigerated goods — has been evident in supermarkets, and has drawn concern from industry representatives and retail watchdog organizations.
“Before Horizon left the trade, we had, on average, about 230 empty container slots each week on Crowley vessels,” said José “Pache” Ayala, Crowley vice president, Puerto Rico. “That space has been absorbed by customers. In mid-December, we structurally modified our barge layouts to optimize the stow factor, which generated enough new capacity for another 100 loads a week.”
“Then on Jan. 15, we began running our vessels at an accelerated speed, which increased our frequency of service and weekly cargo capacity by another 250 loads. And most recently, we deployed the new flat-deck barge, which will arrive every other week in Puerto Rico — effectively increasing capacity by 200 loads per week,” he said.
Horizon Lines was one of Puerto Rico’s main maritime shippers, connecting Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland. It exited the market earlier this month after nearly 60 years of service, after selling its port assets to competing carrier Luis Ayala.
In addition to increasing weekly cargo carrying capacity, Crowley has ordered and begun placing into service more than 6,500 pieces of new cargo handling equipment, including 40-foot, 45-foot and 48-foot high cube containers, 20-foot ISO tanks and a variety of fixed and slider chassis.
“We completely understand that there has been some stress on the island’s supply chain given the abrupt departure of Horizon Lines from the market,” said John Hourihan, Crowley senior vice president and general manager. “We have responded aggressively to replace the void they left, and are confident that current concerns will be short lived and that the island’s overall supply chain will be back to normal very soon.”
As for the new barge en route to San Juan, Crowley took measures to ensure the vessel would accommodate the size and type of equipment most popular in the Puerto Rico trade, the company said.