High water on US Mississippi river reducing ship traffic

Lane Kelley


HOUSTON (ICIS)–High water on the US Mississippi river continues to reduce shipping traffic, with a flood warning still in effect for river areas north of St Louis, Missouri, limiting the size of tows in New Orleans, Louisiana and making the discharge of import vessels there a challenge.

The high water on the river, from rain and melted snow runoff, has also been compounded by the disruption from a mid-March fire at a key storage facility in the Houston, Texas area.

“The high water on the Mississippi River and ITC [Intercontinental Terminals Company] on the Houston Ship Channel is making moves difficult,” a fuel oil broker said.

Sources in the Midwest said the impact of the high water on the Mississippi is expected to last until late May or even early June, as current weather has dumped a lot more snow in the upper Midwest and is bringing rain across the Ohio River system over the weekend.

But a Midwest-based industrial ethanol producer said that while the Mississippi river is high, it is not high enough to cause severe disruptions on all barge traffic on the upper part of the river above St Louis.

Feedstock supply issues for two US phenol producers in the Midwest, AdvanSix and Altivia, appear to be improving.

The producers declared force majeure on phenol from Midwestern plants in early March and late February, respectively, because of logistics problems impeding feedstock cumene shipments.

While the force majeure declarations are still in place and expected to hold through April, sources said the plants are receiving cumene now as the units get up and running again.

However, the ethanol producer said it has been tough to find product on the lower Mississippi river, with buyers in Texas having to look for material outside normal channels of distribution.

“[People] are looking for any kind of product from any source,” the producer said. “We’ve gotten inquiries for ethanol in the Houston area.”

Severe weather and waterway closures in the Tennessee River Valley also prompted Ascend Performance Materials to extend its force majeure on hexamethylene diamine (HMDA) plants in Alabama and Florida, though market sources said last week that the Alabama plant is running.

Meanwhile, the backlog in vessel traffic on the Houston channel, stemming from ships having to be decontaminated before they can leave, has been reduced to an almost-normal number, according to a Houston Vessel Traffic service spokesman on Friday.

As of mid-morning Friday, there were 18 vessels inbound and 13 vessels outbound on the waterway, which are substantially lower numbers compared to previous reports earlier this month.

Click here to view related stories and content covering the ITC terminal tank fire incident and its impact.

Focus article by Lane Kelley

Additional reporting by Steve McGinn, Mark Milam, Bill Bowen, Zachary Moore, Adam Yanelli and Lucas Hall


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