Magnolia Marine completes six-boat building program


(Courtesy Magnolia Marine)

Magnolia Marine Transport, of Vicksburg, Miss., recently introduced the sixth and final towboat in a series of new vessels constructed by Nichols Boat Company in Greenville, Miss.

The 3,000-hp towboat Jody McMinn, went into service in September 2009, pushing several of the company’s 65 petroleum tank barges.

Measuring 110 feet in length, with twin Caterpillar diesels, the new tug is the 19th towboat in the Magnolia fleet.

She is named after a 36-year employee who is described as the fleet electrician and all-around trouble-shooter for the entire fleet. McMinn, 60, joined the company two years out of high school in 1973.

Magnolia Marine, founded in 1968, is part of the Ergon family of companies in the oil and gas business, founded in 1954 by Les Lampton Jr., who is still chairman of Ergon operations. His son, Lee Lampton, president of Magnolia Marine, is one of four brothers currently heading different company operations. The Lampton family includes 50 different companies under its corporate umbrella.

Magnolia’s fleet of over 65 barges consists entirely of tank barges, most of them being double-hull heated barges ranging in capacity from 14,000 barrels to 25,000 barrels.

Magnolia’s barges transport everything from asphalt, to heated lube oils, crude oil and a variety of residual oil products. Only two of the company’s barges are devoted to clean-oil products. The company claims to be the largest transporter of asphalt products on the inland river system.

The company’s tugs are mostly in the 3,000-hp range.

The newest tug, Jody McMinn, was dispatched with three barges to load crude oil at a client terminal in St. James, La., for her first assignment. She discharged that cargo at a terminal of the same company in Vicksburg, Miss., according to Roger Harris, vice president of operations.

In mid-April, Jody McMinn was contracted out to an oil company pushing a pair of Magnolia barges and servicing docks and terminals belonging to the same client.

“There is no particular route for her,” said Harris. “She most often works in and out of the St. Louis area, but often is dispatched to destinations on the Ohio River and down in the New Orleans area.

“She is usually handling heated asphalt or a residual oil,” he added. “That’s our bread and butter. She will be handling asphalt so long as there is road construction and repair going on.”

Magnolia recently finished divesting itself of the last of its single-skin barges while completing a building program for new double-hull barges, according to Harris. The company fleet is now 100 percent double hull, he said. The newest push boats in the fleet have the latest in low-emission diesel engines, crew accommodations and wheelhouse electronics.

Both the Caterpillar 3512-B main engines and the John Deere auxiliary power generators are Tier-2 compliant. Shaft seals from Wärtsilä Marine Guard have replaced the old-style packing glands with an eye towards reducing maintenance and eliminating the problem of oily bilge water.

Jody McMinn has accommodations for up to 10 crewmembers, most in double cabins, along with a large galley and dining area, a crew lounge and laundry room.

Captains on the vessel include Hank Pouliot and Dick Weber. Chief engineer is John Wiebe.

Pilothouse equipment includes dual Furuno radars, along with AIS and GPS receivers also by Furuno. Navigation charting is supplied by Jeppesen.

Like many workboats these days, the new towboats for Magnolia are equipped with a rudder monitoring system supplied by Wood River Electronics. The system provides audible and visible alarms if the steering levers are not moved within a two-minute period.

It was less than 10 years ago when Magnolia Marine suffered a huge setback when one of its towboats struck a highway bridge in Arkansas, resulting in a number of motorists’ deaths, after one of its captains collapsed of an ailment while alone in the wheelhouse. Wheelhouse alert systems, some using rudder monitors and some using other technologies, have been increasingly installed on many new vessels since then.

Like almost every other company in marine transportation, Magnolia suffered from reduced demand for its services during the recent economic downturn. While the company did have some idled equipment during the past year or so, it was able to keep most of its units underway and earning money by relying more heavily on spot market orders for transport of dirty oils, according to Harris.

“We basically survived by switching cargoes,” said Harris. “Instead of pushing asphalt we might have been handling more lube oils or residual oils and different types of fuel oils that require heat. It was just not the bread-and-butter asphalt that we are commonly pushing. I would say we had probably 25 percent of our fleet on the spot market at any one time during the downturn.”

Magnolia Marine reports it has about 250 employees including both shoreside and marine personnel. The company has its headquarters on a section of the Mississippi just north of Vicksburg.