The route map for the Mandeville-based Florida Marine Transporters resembles a vast, geographic circulatory system that begins at the mouth of the Mississippi River and goes as far north as Minneapolis.
There’s hardly a major inland waterway east of the Continental Divide that the maker, manager and operator of towboats and barges doesn’t traverse. Along the way, it touches rivers with names such as the Ohio, Arkansas, Allegheny, Missouri and Cumberland, among others, as it transports a range of petrochemicals, chemicals, liquefied petroleum gas, crude oil, agricultural liquids and dry cargo.
FMT Owner Dennis Pasentine is heavily engaged in the day-to-day operations of his business, arriving at the office every morning at 5 a.m. A fisherman at heart, he watches storms closely, and frequently drops in on the operations center within the company’s relatively new digs off Causeway Boulevard. While there, he reviews the positions of boats, how much fuel they’re burning and how many miles they’ve made.
He has developed a sixth sense over the years. “If a boat is not performing how he thinks it should, he’ll ask about it,” says Brent Ice, Florida Marine’s executive vice president and general manager.
Pasentine makes sure there’s a good mix of new technology and old-fashioned knowhow on hand. While FMT uses the latest in monitoring and tracking equipment, the company also uses “old school” methodology, including wall boards with tracking data written in dry erase marker. “You have to check off that you’ve done your job so everyone in the room can see that the customer has been notified, docks have been notified and the boat knows their orders,” Ice says.
The company also makes a point of hiring homegrown people with backgrounds in industry. There are former employees of Shell and ExxonMobil, among others. Ice, in fact, worked in Marathon’s Marine Group for 10 years prior to coming on board.
Pasentine encourages a familial atmosphere, and even brings his Dobermans to the office. His oldest son, Dennis Jr., is the current president of the company, while next in line is John, who is the Dry Division general manager. Dennis Sr. handles the liquids side of the business.
A Mississippi native, he formed Florida Marine Transporters in 1994 after purchasing a small company, two boats and seven barges in Pensacola, Florida. He then moved to the New Orleans area, but kept the name, and by 1998 had begun one of the largest double-hulled tank barge construction projects in the U.S. At the time, most vessels were single-hulled, but he knew it wouldn’t be long before the Coast Guard changed the requirement. Today, FMT owns 250 of the barges, many constructed at the nearby Trinity Industries shipyard (now Arcosa Marine Products) in Madisonville.
Not long after, FMT came close to breaking another record, contracting with a shipbuilder in Panama City to build nearly 70 new towboats. At the time, industry wasn’t paying much attention to the age and condition of tugboats in the river. Today, that’s all changed. Industrial owners are implementing maximum age requirements on the boats coming to their dock, as an estimated 75% of the boats are 25 years or older.
By the time that happened, FMT was already way ahead of the game.