Higman Marine Grows:

Susan Buchanan (taken from MarineNews February 2012 print edition)
Thursday, March 08, 2012
Higman Captain in the Wheelhouse / photo: courtesy of Higman.

Innovation and New Building are Key Movers for this Gulf Coast Bulk Transportation Provider.

 

Fleet And Staff Have Doubled In Ten Years


Gordie Keenan, Higman's vice president of training told MarineNews in January, “We have 54 inland towboats, the majority of which are rated at 2,000 horse power, and 116 inland tank barges. Today our vessels are bigger with more horsepower, pushing more barrels, than ten years ago.” The company carries a myriad of crude oils and refined products for its clients on a fleet of barges and inland towboats that has doubled in number over the last ten years. Today, Higman has a workforce of 415 employees, also nearly twice what it was a decade ago.

 

Higman Marine: By the Numbers

  • Founded: 1917
  • Barges (today / 2002): 116 / 59
  • Inland tow boats (today / 2002): 54 / 28
  • Bulk Commodities Carried: crude oil, condensate, # 6 fuel oil, natural gasoline, xylene, para xylene, benzene, gasolines, naphtha, raffinate, reformate, diesels, jets fuel and others.
  • Total Mariners (today / 2002): 356 / 162
  • Total Employees (today / 2002): 415 / 201
  • Offices (5): Houston, Channelview, Orange, Covington, Mobile, AL
  • Earnings: Proprietary
  • Source: Higman Marine

 

Most of Higman's barge fleet is comprised of double-hull tank barges, equipped with vapor control and pollution systems, to meet requirements of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990--passed by Congress after the Exxon Valdez accident--and to meet the 1970 Clean Air Act.
 

Higman's operating territory is vast. “Our business occurs mainly on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway from Brownsville, Texas to Panama City, Fla. and up the Mississippi River from the Gulf to Chicago, along the Illinois River,” explains Keenan. Higman operates on the Mississippi River system, including the Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Black Warrior Rivers and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. “We do a lot of business around Houston, Texas City, Lake Charles, New Orleans, and Decatur, Alabama,” he said, adding, “All our boats and barges are operated as dedicated tows, which keeps each boat always assigned to the same barge.” Unspoken in all of that is the increased safety metric that comes of good familiarization with every aspect of the firm’s diverse and far flung equipment base.

 

Company Adapts To New Regulations, Customer Needs And Technology

 

In the last decade, and as the regulatory noose has tightened, Keenan says that Higman has developed systematic processes to ensure that all of its equipment and personnel are in compliance. Areas requiring adjustment, he said, include the addition of the federal TWIC program and the U.S. Coast Guard's proposed Subchapter M rules. He predicted that based on legwork the company has done so far, the transition to Subchapter M won't be a problem.

 

Subchapter M: Still more inland inspection requirements
 

Higman's clientele can be demanding and exacting. “Our customers scrutinize how we do our business,” Keenan said. “They look at our barges, tows and equipment more than the Coast Guard does to make sure it's up to their standards. They're interested in our training program.” In the last decade, greater oversight by customers has been one of the company's biggest challenges. That said;  oil company BP has awarded Higman its “Suppliers of the Year” award on more than one occasion. The honor signifies outstanding achievement and overall performance. At the same time, Higman continues to improve its operations.


“We began developing our own software in 1999 to manage our fleet,” Keenan said. “It's a continuous process as we define and redefine the needs of our business. We have a full-time programmer who built and tailored our software for us.” Crew members from the newest deck hand all the way up to seasoned towboat pilots use the in-house software. “At first it was a challenge, but people quickly caught on,” Keenan said. “The young fellows were already adept at computers and laptops, and that helped. In the last five years, safety reports, payroll, grocery orders, most of our paperwork and the majority of our training are done on line.”
 

Other changes have occurred, too. “Wheelhouses on today's inland boats are much more electronic and sophisticated, with a lot more equipment, than in past,” Keenan said. “You have more options to safely navigate vessels now. The radar's still there but we now have integrated navigation and new communication systems. And our engines are much more fuel-efficient than ten years ago. We have the most fuel-efficient engines we can buy.”

 

Advancement Opportunities: Key to Recruitment and Retention

 

Bucking an industry trend, finding labor hasn't been a problem for Higman in recent years. Keen explains why: “We get a lot of referrals, particularly from our employees.” He adds, “We don't do much outside recruiting. A lot of people come to us and are knocking on our door, so we can be pretty selective.”


Higman trains and nurtures its staff. “We hire entry-level workers, train them, and within years folks are able to move up to the wheelhouse,” Keenan said. “We hired 14 new deckhands in December and several of them were just out of high school. They're very enthusiastic, excited and ready to work. It's fun to have them in. They're between 18 and 24, and it's an opportunity for them.” He said in ten years they could be pilots, making a good salary.
The results of that approach have been rewarding. “We've had little turnover in our staff, and of course our long-term employees know how to work our equipment,” he said. Higman rewards employees with bonuses and longevity pay after six month of service. And throughout the year, the company offers seminars for tankermen and wheelmen and in advanced wheelhouse management, advanced pilothouse management and leadership. The company's in-house newsletter, The Tow Line keeps employees informed about promotions, new vessels, safety, health and maritime history.

 

Acquisitions And New Builds: Modernizing and Increasing the Fleet


Higman Towing was founded in 1917 by Orange, TX pharmacist J. W. Higman and partner Louis Smaihall , originally carried logs on the Sabine River to a local lumber mill and move water to spots in Louisiana. The firm started with two small tugs and three barges, and then shifted its focus as demand for crude oil and petroleum products grew. In 1953, Higman bought the former Pan American Refining Co.'s marine fleet, comprised of three boats and ten barges.
 

From the 1960s to 1990s, Higman modernized its fleet, periodically adding new boats and barges. In 1992, the company celebrated its 75th anniversary by christening the industry's first crude oil tows built to comply with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. In 1997, Higman again expanded, acquiring Maryland Marine Inc., growing the fleet by 40 percent in the process.


In recent years, the firm has continued building boats and barges, and has opted for increased horsepower and barge capacity. Notable newcomers to the company's towboat fleet include the M/V Orange and the M/V San Antonio--both ceremoniously blessed last November. M/V Orange was delivered in early November by Dulac, La.-based Hope Services, which has built over three dozen vessels for Higman. And the M/V San Antonio was delivered at about the same time by Southwest Shipyard in Texas. The M/V San Bernard, constructed by Southwest Shipyards, began service last September.

 

Higman Today: a model for tomorrow

 

Earnings of privately-owned Higman Marine are proprietary. George H. Thomas is president and director of the company. All of the company’s vessels are U.S. flagged. Keenan neatly sums up the firm’s approach to its activities. “Our core business is focused on our customers, and we try to tailor our equipment and services to them,” he said. “We don't want to be all things to all people, but instead focus on our service area, trying to be the best at it.” To that end, Higman remains committed to giving its customers environmentally safe, efficient water transportation. As one the oldest U.S. inland marine companies, it nevertheless has one of its newest fleets of pushboats and tank barges in the business. In today’s highly regulated and financially uncertain market conditions, privately-held Higman therefore remains a model for both small and large operators. What’s not to like?
 

This article was taken from the February print edition of MarineNews magazine.

 

Susan Buchanan is a New Orleans-based business writer, specializing in energy, maritime matters, agriculture, the environment and construction. She holds a master's degree from Cornell University in agricultural economics and an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Maritime Reporter November 2014 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

People & Company News

Madsen to Chair Norway’s Research Council Executive Board

Henrik O. Madsen appointed chairman of the executive board of the Research Council of Norway   DNV GL president and CEO Henrik O. Madsen was appointed as chairman

Port of Houston Expecting Record Year

The Port of Houston Authority is expecting 2014 to close as a banner year for the port, with 34 million tons of cargo handled through November, Executive Director

Hapag-Lloyd Completes CSAV Merger Capital Increase

Hapag-Lloyd completed the planned capital increase of EUR 370 million (approximately $452.5 million) as part of the business combination with the Chilean shipping

Workboats

Maritime Reporter @ 75: The Daily Cartoon

Maritime Reporter & Engineering News was founded by John J. O'Malley (1905-1980) in 1939, and today ranks as the world's largest audited trade publication in the world serving the maritime industry,

MARAD Publishes US ATB, ITB Database

The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) released what it is calling a first-of-its-kind public database that chronicles U.S.-flagged, privately owned domestic

New Chinese Shipyard Launches First Ship

The new shipyard facility of Honghua Offshore Oil & Gas Equipment Company in Jiangsu, China, has launched its first ship, an IMT982 Platform Supply Vessel. The vessel,

Environmental

NZ Report: Human Error to Blame for Rena Grounding

New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) published its final report into the grounding of containership Rena in October 2011. The TAIC’s

Costa Rica Approves APM Terminals Project

Port operator APM Terminals, a unit of Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk, said on Friday Costa Rica's environment agency had approved the construction of its Moin Container Terminal project.

NOAA: US to See More Floods from Sea Level Rise

Most of U.S. coast may see 30 or more days a year of floods up to 2 feet above high tides. By 2050, a majority of U.S. coastal areas are likely to be threatened

Barges

Becker Marine Delivers Rudder for Largest Containership

Becker Marine Systems delivers rudder for the largest container ship in the world   At 19,000 TEU, the largest container ship in the world is now picking up speed

Port of Amsterdam to Reward Green Barges

The cleaner the vessels, the larger the discount on Inland Harbour Dues. Port of Amsterdam will be joining the Green Award program for inland barges on January 1,

WCI Applauds Barge Diesel Fuel User Fee Increase

Waterways Council, Inc. (WCI) and its members and stakeholders applauded the Senate’s passage, by a vote of 76 to16, of a 9-cent increase to the barge diesel fuel user fee.

Logistics

Port Workers in Argentine Grain Hub End Strike

Port workers in part of the Argentine grains hub of Rosario lifted a work stoppage on Friday, only a day after they went on strike over demands for higher year-end bonuses, a union official said.

Port of Houston Expecting Record Year

The Port of Houston Authority is expecting 2014 to close as a banner year for the port, with 34 million tons of cargo handled through November, Executive Director

Costa Rica Approves APM Terminals Project

Port operator APM Terminals, a unit of Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk, said on Friday Costa Rica's environment agency had approved the construction of its Moin Container Terminal project.

 
 
Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Offshore Oil Pipelines Port Authority Salvage Ship Electronics Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | terms and conditions | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.4036 sec (2 req/sec)