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Converting Our Fleet of Ships to Natural Gas

As more maritime and transportation companies move to natural gas, the benefits will grow exponentially.

Anthony Chiarello

Anthony Chiarello is being honored as a Transportation Ladders of Opportunity Champion of Change.

I’m fourth generation in the shipping business and am in my 35th year in the maritime and logistics industry. To be honored for leading the movement to natural gas as a marine fuel is both exciting and humbling.

When we announced TOTE would be the first U.S. maritime company to convert our fleet of ships to natural gas, we knew we were in a unique position to create major change in the U.S. transportation industry.

Change is often fueled by challenge. The challenges posed to our company by the North American Emissions Control Area quickly became an opportunity to lead the industry to cleaner fuels beyond diesel. We’ve been bullish in our statements that we believe all new ships built for the U.S. domestic trades will burn liquid natural gas (LNG) as fuel. The response from other maritime companies has been nothing short of a tidal shift; orders for LNG ship construction accelerated after we announced plans to convert our ships that serve Alaska and build new ships, the first container ships in the world to be powered by LNG, for Puerto Rico.

As a Jones Act domestic carrier, we’re uniquely positioned to create real change in the supply conundrum -- availability of fuel is a big hurdle for most transportation sectors to change over to clean burning natural gas. Our regular service routes create enough of a steady demand to entice fuel partners to build liquefaction plants in our ports of call -- thus making LNG supply available to others in those markets. Supply in Jacksonville, Florida and Tacoma, Washington will serve the Southeast and Pacific Northwest with natural gas that can be used for ships, trucks, and rail.

As more maritime and transportation companies move to natural gas, the benefits will grow exponentially. The impetus was improving air quality, but we also know that moving to a domestically sourced fuel will increase reliability for our critical supply chain and the environmental and operational safety record of LNG is unmatched.

Despite 40,000 American ships and 500,000 mariners operating in our coastal and inland waterways, marine shipping is largely unseen as Americans are more disconnected from commercial U.S. ports. What most Americans don’t realize is that 90 percent of all consumer freight cargo moves on ships at some point in the supply chain. I’m hopeful that this award will bring some well-deserved recognition to the maritime industry as the most environmentally friendly, safest and economical mode of freight transportation. 

Change of this magnitude requires strong support from partners and regulatory agencies: EPA, helping to facilitate engine conversions; the U.S. Coast Guard, working to create new regulations; Wärtsilä, designing new LNG engines for our ships; General Dynamics NASSCO, building a ship that’s never been built before; partners creating fuel infrastructure; and our parent company Saltchuk, which is both able and willing to invest to “do the right thing."

It is an honor to stand among the 2014 Transportation Champions of Change representing TOTE and Saltchuk. My colleagues and I are proud of our investments into new technology as a reflection of our commitment to the people and customers of Alaska and Puerto Rico. We’re equally pleased to help move the U.S. toward natural gas as a marine transportation fuel while providing the most advanced, safe, reliable service possible.

Anthony Chiarello is President and CEO of TOTE.