March 22 - ­ Crowley Maritime and VT Halter Marine have launched Crowley's new Commitment Class ship El Coquí, one of the world's first combination ro-ro ships powered by liquefied natural gas in Pascagoula, USA

El Coquí, named after a beloved frog native to Puerto Rico, will now proceed through the final topside construction and testing phase before beginning service in the US Jones Act trade during the second half of 2017.

Tom Crowley, company chairman said: "We look forward to the successful delivery of El Coquí later this year and her sister ship, Taíno, in the first half of next year."

"The ship launch also marks the beginning of a very momentous week for Crowley and our Commitment Class project," Tom Crowley said. "We are expecting the arrival of three, new gantry cranes at our new terminal pier in San Juan later this week, and two, one million litre cryogenic tanks at our LNG bunkering facility being built at the Port of Jacksonville (Jaxport)."

As HLPFI reported, the three cranes were manufactured by Liebherr Container Cranes in Ireland. The cranes will be offloaded onto Crowley's new pier over several days, and will be the first new specialised gantry cranes to be received for operation in San Juan Harbor in more than five decades.

The two 260-tonne cryogenic LNG tanks, constructed by Chart Industries in Europe, are expected to arrive at Crowley's leased property at Jaxport's Talleyrand Marine Terminal within a week. The facility, scheduled for completion this summer, will be adjacent to Crowley's operating terminal and will serve as the fueling station for the LNG-powered ships.

El Coquí, like her sister ship Taíno, will be able to transport up to 2,400 teu and a mix of nearly 400 cars and larger vehicles in the enclosed, ventilated and weathertight ro-ro decks.

"The new ships and related improvements in Puerto Rico and Jacksonville will add speed and efficiency for our customers shipping goods between the mainland and the island," said John Hourihan, senior vice president and general manager, Puerto Rico services. "The environmentally friendly ships will replace tugs and triple-deck ro-ro barges currently sailing between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico."

Crowley Maritime says that fueling the ships with LNG will reduce emissions significantly, including a 100 percent reduction in sulphur oxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM); a 92-percent reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx); and a reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) of more than 35 percent per container, compared with current fossil fuels.

Hourihan also noted the importance of the Jones Act as it relates to Crowley's USD550 million overall investment in the trade, saying, "the improvements we are making would not have been possible without the Act."

In addition to the ships, cranes and tanks, Crowley's USD550 million investment includes a new 275 m (900 ft) long, 35 m (114 ft) wide concrete pier at Isla Grande and associated dredging needed to accommodate the two new ships; expanding terminal capacity for handling refrigerated containers; paving 15 acres (6 ha) to accommodate container stacking; adding containers and associated handling equipment to its fleet; installing a new electrical substation to provide power for the new gantry cranes; constructing a new seven-lane exit gate for increased efficiency; installing hardware required for a new terminal operating software system, and more.

"The ships, terminal and bunkering facility represent next-generation technology built for high performance and dependable service for our customers," said Crowley's Tucker Gilliam, vice president, special projects.

Crowley has served the Puerto Rico market from the 85-acre Isla Grande Terminal since 1954, and says it offers more weekly sailings in the market than any other shipping line.

A video of the launch can be viewed here.