US logs sail for China

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

Ralph Stewart Logging Yard, LLC, located in Port Allen, completed loading over 48,000 metric tons of southern yellow pine logs on the Panamanian flagged ship, The Mairouli, on May 18 and the ship sailed for China on May 19 at 2 a.m.from the Port of Baton Rouge. The value of the logs, according to some forest economists, was in the $2.5 to $3.0 million dollar range.

The Mairouli, 190 meters long and 32 meters wide, (623 feet x 105 feet) was built in 2005 and is owned by Maryville Maritime in Piraeus, Greece.

According to the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, it had been more than a decade since the last shipment of logs had left the port on an ocean going vessel headed for overseas ports.

Ralph Stewart Logging Yard, LLC purchased a 12 acre site at the intersection of Highway 1 and US Highway 190 to use as a log storage yard. The weather, ice, sleet, and then rain, was a major negative factor in Stewart getting up and running to accumulate the 1,200 plus loads of logs needed to fill a ship with the capacity of Mairouli.

Once the Mairouli tied up at the Port of Greater Baton Rouge on April 26, the five mile transfer of logs from the Stewart log yard to the ship began on a 24/7 basis. Although it was a right hand turn from the log yard onto Hwy 1 south toward the port, West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's deputies were stationed in front of the log yard to help with the traffic flow.

The southern yellow pine log export log yard acquisition was a huge investment for Stewart Logging. They paid nearly $1.75 million for the 12 acre log yard site with shops and offices located on the front of the property.

Ralph Stewart is a third generation logger, home based in Amite. Stewart has been logging for 25 years. He first began developing a log export market project for the Port of Greater Baton Rouge a couple of years ago.

"It was a tough job getting this first ship loaded," Stewart acknowledged. "Not only did we have to transfer the logs from our log yard on Hwy 1 and Hwy 190, we had to fumigate the logs."

"After we loaded the holds of the ship, we stacked logs on the deck. This took time, five days as the stanchions had to be repaired and stood up in order to hold the logs in place. We plan to start taking logs again within the next couple of weeks. The early summer is not the best time to be exporting logs as the market is soft during this time of the year."

"We have two vessels on order, one for late July and one for August. We've made some changes in our operation. We are going to be more quality control conscious. Also, the Ralph Stewart Export Logging Operations is now just Ralph Stewart Logging, without any partners to deal with, so operations should go much smoother in the future."

When the Mairouli departed for China on May 19, a few days behind schedule, phase one of Stewart's export project was completed. Stewart believes there is enough export demand for southern yellow pine logs that six to eight ocean going vessels like the Mairouli can successfully be filled each year. Apparently, there is a huge supply of pine logs available for export in Southeast Louisiana and Southwest Mississippi.

"Our plans are to start taking logs at the yard in Port Allen the week of June 23," Stewart told the Journal on June 17. "Anyone with logs to bring in can call me at 225.346.4740.

Thanks to Ralph, I was able to visit his log yard a couple of times as logs were being brought into the yard and then I was able to board the Mairouli when the ship was being loaded.