Moving Grain: Major Barge Lines in Legal Disputes

Barge and ship traffic transport export cargo on the Mississippi River in the Port of New Orleans. Photo: Bob Nichols, USDA

Major Barge Lines in Legal Disputes With NOLA Area Export Elevator Companies

According to River Transport News (January 13, 2020 and December 16, 2019 editions), Ingram and American Commercial Barge Lines (ACBL), operators of two of the largest barges fleets, have filed lawsuits against operators of export grain elevators in the New Orleans (NOLA) region.

The plaintiffs seek to recover fees—for third-party services related to barge storage and movement within a port—incurred while delivering grain to the elevators. The outcomes of the lawsuits could set important precedents regarding responsibility for third-party charges and whether terms in a bill of lading can be considered contractual.

Assignment of responsibility for fees and charges are part of a larger debate in transportation, such as the conversation around detention and demurrage charges in the rail and ocean arenas.

Hopper Barge Sinks on the Mississippi

On Friday, January 17, a 20-barge tow struck a stationary vessel near the Upper Mississippi River mile marker 51.9 (near Cape Girardeau, MO), causing a single hopper barge carrying cement to sink in 60-foot waters. The Coast Guard notified mariners in the area to exercise caution until the barge was located.

With 42 feet of water over the barge, it will not present significant challenges to navigation but is being monitored by sonar.

Grain Inspections Down but PNW Inspections Rebound

For the week ending January 16, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.1 million metric tons (mmt). Total grain inspections were down 9 percent from the previous week, down 29 percent from last year, and 8 percent below the 3-year average.

Grain News on AgFax


Inspections of wheat and corn dropped 22 percent and 28 percent, respectively, from the previous week. Soybean inspections, however, increased 4 percent from week to week. Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections increased 19 percent from the previous week and were the highest since mid-December 2019.

PNW soybean inspections jumped over 100 percent from the past week as demand from China increased. Mississippi Gulf inspections decreased 22 percent for the same period.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending January 9, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 21.7 mmt. This represented a 30-percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year. Net corn export sales reached 0.785 mmt, up significantly from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 0.712 mmt, up significantly from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached 0.651 mmt, up significantly from the previous week.

Rail

U.S. Class I railroads originated 18,304 grain carloads during the week ending January 11. This was a 7-percent decrease from the previous week, 26 percent less than last year, and 23 percent lower than the 3-year average.

Average February shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $13 below tariff for the week ending January 16. This was $188 more than last week and $92 more than the same week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.

Barge

For the week ending January 18, barge grain movements totaled 575,414 tons. This was a 10.4-percent increase from the previous week and 2 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending January 18, 352 grain barges moved down river—27 more than the previous week. There were 621 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 23 percent fewer than the previous week.

Ocean

For the week ending January 16, 28 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—24.3 percent fewer than same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting January 17), 48 vessels were expected to be loaded—12.7 percent fewer than the same period last year.

As of January 16, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $46.00. This was 2 percent more than the previous week. The rate from PNW to Japan was $24.75 per mt, 2 percent more than the previous week.

Fuel

For the week ending January 20, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 2.7 cents from the previous week to $3.037 per gallon, 7.2 cents above the same week last year.

Full report.




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