Where Kirby hauls cargo, the only curbs are riverbanks -- the company is the largest inland tank barge operator in the US. Its fleet, operated by subsidiary Kirby Inland Marine, consists of over 800 barges and about 220 towboats. The vessels are used to transport liquid bulk cargo: petrochemicals, crude and refined petroleum products, and agricultural chemicals. Major customers include Exxon Mobil affiliate SeaRiver Maritime and Dow Chemical, each of which accounts for over 10% of Kirby's sales. Its Marine Transportation segment (inland/offshore operations) is joined by its Engine Systems segment, which is a leading provider of diesel engine services and parts for marine, rail, and power generation customers.
Kirby Engine Systems offers services throughout the US and in parts of the Caribbean and the Pacific Rim. This division provides overhaul and repair of diesel engines and reduction gears, line boring, and block welding for its customers; it also sells and distributes parts for diesel engines, as well as fuel, lubrication, and engine control systems to the nuclear industry. Additionally, it engages in the overhaul and repair of locomotive diesel engines.
Both segments have expanded via acquisitions and capital investments. In late 2012 Kirby acquired Allied Transportation in a transaction valued at $116 million. Kirby gained Allied's fleet of 13 offshore barges and seven tugboats serving petrochemical companies (some of which were current Kirby customers). The deal bolstered Kirby's hold in the petrochemical market.
Buoying its Marine Transportation business in 2011, Kirby purchased K-Sea Transportation Partners in a deal valued at approximately $604 million. K-Sea specializes in transporting gasoline and other fuel-related products, with a particular presence on the East and West coasts -- a geographic market that further diversifies Kirby's business. Kirby has benefited from strong demand for petrochemicals, which accounts for nearly 70% of the company's transportation revenue. It moved over 50 million tons of liquid cargo on the US waterway system in 2010. In addition to its primary inland tank barge operations, Kirby maintains a fleet of four offshore dry cargo barges and four offshore tugboats, which are operated by Kirby Ocean Transport.
The company signed another deal earlier in 2011 to bulk up its Marine Transportation business with the acquisition of Enterprise Marine Services bunker fuel transportation operations for a reported $53.2 million. Included in the deal are 21 tank barges and 15 towboats (used to deliver engine fuel to cruise ships) and container vessels and freighters at ports in South Florida, Alabama, and Kirby's home port of Houston. Even with a revenue decrease of over 20% in 2009, the company's strong cash flow allowed it to take advantage of construction prices for tank barges and towboats. To ensure that it keeps pace with the competition, Kirby has been investing in its barge fleet, largely through acquisitions of previously leased vessels. In 2009 it spent over $120 million on barge construction and over $40 million on upgrades to its fleet. The company plans to purchase three more tank barges and three towboats in 2010 at an estimated cost of $60 million.
At a Congressional hearing in May 2010 for the "Water Resources Development Act of 2010," which focused on water resource projects (ports, inland waterways, and flood control), Kirby made its case by offering comparisons among different transportation methods. On one gallon of fuel, Inland tank barges can move a ton of product over 570 miles, whereas a train will only get 400 miles per gallon; trucks are in last place, delivering just 150 miles for the same amount of fuel. The company also points out that barges have the lowest carbon dioxide emissions -- rail transport generates almost 40% more emissions, with trucks belching out a whopping 370% more. One 15-barge river tow equates to 1,050 truckloads of cargo on the highway and about 215 rail cars pulled by six locomotives. – less