Where are the ‘normal’ ships?

As I write this, it’s a dreary Sunday morning at anchor behind the breakwater in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.  The kind of morning for pancakes, sausage and limited ambitions…We made our Southbound transit yesterday of Hell’s Gate on New York’s East River, down the harbor past the Battery and Lady Liberty,DSCN1524

through the Verrazano Narrows in the company of an immense container ship and across the lower bay to Sandy Hook.

We'll let him go first...

We’ll let him go first…

The marine forecast pretty much nailed today’s weather…so we’ll hang loose and wait for the better weather promised tomorrow to make our eighty mile run down the Jersey coast to Atlantic City.

But what prompts this edition is not so much our southbound progress as an observation gleaned at sea-level. Where are all the ‘normal’ ships?  You know: freighters?  Yes, I’ve heard of inter-modal transport systems..the Sea Land Corp. is ubiquitous. But what is surprising is the disappearance of what I think of as coastal freighters. What we do see are barges of every size, either pulled or pushed along by powerful tugs. They handle the bulk loads of sand, gravel, cement and fuel oil.  An efficient model, a tug can expeditiously deliver several barges to various locations while each is unloaded without laying-up the boat and crew.  Freight – manufactured goods are still going by ship. But in containers – discrete units, easily gathered and dispersed by truck, gathered together and (when there are enough of them going the same general direction) piled high on immense ships and bound for the select super ports equipped to handle them.   The railroads have done this too…with trains stretching more than a mile. Fewer ports, fewer depots…and increasing dependence on the highway system and its demands and limitations.  Have you driven the deteriorated highways around any one of these ports?  The airlines have embraced a similar concept with the Boeing 747 and now the Airbus 380. Cruise lines have done the same (although you can pay a hefty premium to travel on a smaller ship).  All heavy investments in one giant ship, fewer departures.

I’m not qualified to criticize the economics of this approach, but one can’t help wonder if we aren’t experiencing reduced value from our efforts to reduce costs?  In all of these, there are probably cost savings but at the certainty of a strained level of service. Land, sea or air, less point-to-point and more hubs.

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