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Maritime Industry Begins Preparations For Future Launch of Container-on-Vessel Service to the Midwest


Maritime Industry Begins Preparations For Future Launch of Container-on-Vessel Service to the Midwest

New value-added service to the supply chain will offer shippers transit at a lower cost

The collaborative effort to launch the first of its kind patented Container-on-Vessel (COV) service to the Midwest continues to make great progress, with several key milestones being reached in recent weeks. Work is already getting underway to prepare for the safe debut of the patented vessels, which will operate on a new, all-water, north-south trade lane connecting the St. Louis region to the lower Mississippi River and on to worldwide destinations.

Sal Litrico, Chief Executive Officer of American Patriot Container Transport LLC (APCT) had a lot to say on the development. He said optionality is needed more than ever, given the recent transportation and logistical issues that have created major challenges for shippers with no real end in sight, coupled with exponential growth projections in containerized cargo.

Litrico said there are three key legs of the new COV service. The first is the new regional Gateway Terminal located on the Gulf Coast in Plaquemines Parish, which will provide full intermodal service at the widest and deepest part of the river with no operational constraints. The second is the strategically located Midwest partner ports, which like the Gateway Terminal will be state of the art and incorporate automation and a green footprint.

The third leg is the patented, state-of-the-art, purpose-built vessel which will come in two classes – the liner vessel that will move containers on the Mississippi River and smaller, hybrid vessels that will operate in the tributary rivers. Litrico said, the vessels have significant competitive advantages, which include critical mass volume and speed.

One of the milestones recently reached is the letting of bids for construction of four new vessels, with an option for four more. These will be built in U.S. shipyards, per the Jones Act Requirement, a federal statute, and Litrico said they are continuing to work closely with interested shipyards to achieve a mutual beneficial result within the next 30 to 45 days.

Another milestone is the signing of long-term cargo commitments for Phase One of the operations, which is the service between the Gateway Terminal and Memphis, which is expected to be the first Midwest hub port to come on line. That service will include four dedicated vessels capable of making the round trip in 6.2 days. The Gateway Terminal has secured initial rail funding, and APM Terminals, which is part of Maersk, has agreed to operate the terminal.

Looking at Phase Two of the initiative, Litrico said they are working with key beneficial cargo owners (BCOs) and shippers to secure cargo commitments, which will be for an additional four vessels and subsequent Midwest ports, to be determined by the shippers later this year. The operational startup date is projected to be the second half of 2024.

Hawtex Development Corporation is playing a key role in the development of the container terminals on the inland waterway systems, helping to identify suitable locations where the inland vessels could come into port and where they would develop an actual inland intermodal container yard. Memphis and the St. Louis area are two sites they have targeted.

Hawtex President James Hurley said they are now under development at both sites, with potential ports also being considered for Joliet, Illinois and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Feeder ports in Jefferson City and Kansas City would also be part of the system. Focusing on the site in Herculaneum, Missouri, just south of St. Louis, Missouri, he said they have a development agreement with Fred Weber/Riverview Commerce Park, which has the current operations, and are in discussions with a second property owner to bring them into the project.

The new inland container terminal facility in Herculaneum would be built on approximately 75 acres, and there is an additional 125-plus acres for further development of an industrial park behind the terminal, leveraging the close proximity to Interstate 55 and the existing rail connection. Hurley said they are completing 10% design drawings by Vickermon & Associates, a port and intermodal design firm from Virginia, and hope to put out a contract for construction in a few months with the goal of having the operations available at Herculaneum by the Fall 2024.

With the debut of the new vessels on the inland waterways drawing closer, APCT is working closely with Captain John Arenstam, USCG (retired), Assistant Director for Seamen’s Church Institute’s Center for Maritime Education (SCI). Arenstam is the project manager for SCI regarding the partnership with APCT, and has four different areas of emphasis: vessel modeling, port feasibility studies, navigation, and officer assessments and navigation training.

Daniel Every, Lieutenant Commander with the U.S. Coast Guard and Prevention Department Head, Sector Upper Mississippi River, is also playing an important role in ensuring the safe launch for this new service.

Mary Lamie, Executive Vice President of Multi Modal Enterprises for Bi-State Development and head of the St. Louis Regional Freightway moderated the COV discussion which focused on the progress being made for the launch of service as part of the first day of FreightWeekSTL 2022. FreightWeekSTL 2022 continues online through May 27 and will feature panel sessions with other industry experts and leaders in freight, logistics and transportation.

The week-long event is presented by the St. Louis Regional Freightway and Bi-State Development in conjunction with The Waterways Journal. To learn more and register for the remaining sessions or view past sessions for FreightWeekSTL 2022, visit

About St. Louis Regional Freightway

The St. Louis Regional Freightway is a Bi-State Development enterprise formed to create a regional freight district and comprehensive authority for freight operations and opportunities within eight counties in Illinois and Missouri, which comprise the St. Louis metropolitan area. Public sector and private industry businesses are collaborating with the St. Louis Regional Freightway to establish the bi-state region as one of the premier multimodal freight hubs and distribution centers in the United States through marketing, public advocacy, and freight and infrastructure development. To learn more, visit

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Key stakeholders behind the efforts to launch innovative Container-on-Vessel (COV) service to the Midwest today announced that Hawtex Development Corporation is signing on as the lead developer for a new COV port facility in Jefferson County, to be developed in collaboration with Fred Weber/Riverview Commerce Park LLC and integrating a 300+ acre adjacent parcel owned by The Doe Run Company. The new port will be a critical link on the new, all-water, north-south trade lane connecting the Midwest and the St. Louis region to the lower Mississippi River and on to worldwide destinations. Representatives from the Jefferson County (MO) Port Authority, Jefferson County, Missouri, Bi-State Development, American Patriot Holdings LLC/American Patriot Container Transport LLC and APM Terminals joined the newest partners in this bold initiative on Dec. 17 in Herculaneum, Mo., where the port will be located, to provide details on the new facility and the service it will support.

Hawtex Development Corporation, a business development and consulting company with operations in Texas and Hawaii, has been working with American Patriot 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.

Sal Litrico, Chief Executive Officer, American Patriot Container Transport LLC (APCT), which is developing the patented new vessels that will carry the containerized cargo along the underutilized Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers, also revealed at the event that APCT has issued a solicitation to seven US shipyards for construction of four of the patented container on vessels that will provide the new COV service, and an option for four more, another critical milestone in this initiative. The call for submissions was issued Dec. 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 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 20-foot long by 8-foot tall shipping 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.”

Mark Denton, Vice President of Fred Weber/Riverview Commerce Park, shared his enthusiasm for the proposed new service and the role that RCP will play in it.

“When Fred Weber, Inc. set out to start Riverview Commerce Park in 2013, our CEO, Doug Weible, told me that we would be handling containers here someday. While Doug has always had great foresight, I don’t believe even he could have envisioned what the APH team has put together with these amazing new vessels that will revolutionize the container shipping industry, not just in the Midwest, but throughout the world,” said Denton.

The announcement about the new Jefferson County facility follows news of other recent milestones met that are helping to move the new COV service closer to reality. In August of 2020, American Patriot Holdings LLC (APH) and Plaquemines Port Harbor and Terminal District (PPHTD) in Louisiana announced they had signed a letter of intent to develop a multimodal, state-of-the-art container terminal at its facility near the mouth of the Mississippi River, which would be the gateway port for the new COV service. APM Terminals North America was recently announced as the Container-on-Vessel terminal operator for the gateway port and is working with global shippers to integrate this proposed new logistics system with Midwest manufacturers and producers.

“The Plaquemines protected river port location and export/import market strength coupled with the strategic middle-America location of the Herculaneum port in the St. Louis region makes this a very unique supply chain offering for customers and our growth ambitions,” said Brian Harold, Managing Director of APM Terminals. “We look forward to working with all of the partners involved and with state and local leaders to ensure both ports are set up for long-term success.”

The Vessels & The Opportunity

The patented APCT vessels will be built in two sizes with the larger “Liner” vessel traveling between the gateway terminal in Plaquemines and the Mississippi River ports in Memphis, Tenn., and the new port facility in Herculaneum. The smaller “Hybrid” vessel will have a container capacity of 1,800 TEUs and is designed to move through locks and low-lying bridges on the tributary rivers, providing service from those two primary Midwest ports 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.

Both vessels are designed with a patented “Exoskeleton Hull Structure” designed to limit the vessels’ lightship weight to maximize cargo payload. The second patented feature is the “Minimal Wake Bow Structure” which minimizes hull resistance enabling 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.

“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.

The proposed new service will also be welcomed by members of the agriculture industry, who recognize that currently 50% of U.S. crops and livestock are produced within a 500-mile radius of the St. Louis region, including approximately 80% of corn and soybean acreage.

“Missouri’s river system is an invaluable means of transportation for our state’s number one industry – agriculture. This container-on-vessel service allows our supply chain to remain strong and reliable, delivering products in the most sustainable, efficient and cost-effective way to end-users,” said Gary Wheeler, Missouri Soybeans CEO and executive director. “As Missouri’s leader in agricultural exports, our organization and farmers have been involved and invested in American Patriot Holdings to move more product and aid the state’s economy and environment. Our soybean growers understand this immense value and is why we continue to devote dollars into modernizing our state’s infrastructure.”

To get more details on the new service or request a proposal, shippers can contact Sal Litrico via email at or phone at 813-924-9031.