Business: Barge Carriers Bid for Lost Sea Trade

RISING labor costs over the past two decades have virtually driven American shipping from the seas. Because American crews are the best paid in the world—$444 a month for the average able-bodied seaman, for instance —even the most efficient U.S. cargo ships cannot match the lower costs of foreign operators. To recapture a share of seagoing trade, the Government and the domestic shipping industry have placed a $400 million bet on a technological innovation: huge ships that carry fully loaded barges—known as lighters—across the oceans.

This week the first U.S.-built LASH (for "lighter aboard ship") vessel is scheduled to dock near Philadelphia,...

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