March 20 - Crowley Liner Services' new flat-deck barge, 455-4, has begun its maiden voyage to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Crowley engaged marine engineering company Jensen Maritime to reconfigure the barge 455-4, which was originally outfitted for heavy deck cargo transportation, to handle 20 ft, 40 ft, 45 ft and 53 ft containers.

The vessel's deployment marks an important milestone in Crowley's rapid response to the sudden departure of Horizon Lines from the Puerto Rico trade, said the company. Since mid December 2014, Crowley has created additional weekly cargo carrying capacity for about 780 loads, or 78 percent of the loads previously transported by Horizon Lines in an average week.

"Before Horizon left the trade, we had on average about 230 empty container slots each week on Crowley vessels," explained Jose Ayala, Crowley vice president, Puerto Rico. "That space has been absorbed by customers. In mid-December, we structurally modified our barge layouts to optimise the stow factor, which generated enough new capacity for another 100 loads a week.

"In January, we began running our vessels at an accelerated speed, which increased our frequency of service and weekly cargo capacity by another 250 loads. And most recently, we deployed the new flat-deck barge, which will arrive every other week in Puerto Rico, effectively increasing capacity by 200 loads per week."

In addition to increasing weekly cargo carrying capacity, Crowley has ordered and begun placing into service more than 6,500 pieces of new cargo handling equipment, including 40 ft, 45 ft and 48 ft high cube containers, 20 ft ISO tanks and a variety of fixed and slider chassis.

"We completely understand that there has been some stress on the island's supply chain given the abrupt departure of Horizon Lines from the market," said Crowley senior vice president and general manager John Hourihan. "We have responded aggressively to replace the void they left, and are confident that current concerns will be short lived and that the island's overall supply chain will be back to normal very soon."

Crowley says it has taken great measures to ensure that the new barge 455-4 can accommodate the size and type of equipment most popular in the Puerto Rican trade.