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Six Weeks After Hurricane Maria, Domestic Maritime Industry Continues to Play a Key Role in Puerto Rico’s Relief Efforts

Six Weeks After Hurricane Maria, Domestic Maritime Industry Continues to Play a Key Role in Puerto Rico’s Relief Efforts
American maritime companies are continuing to provide beefed-up shipping services to Puerto Rico to ensure essential relief and commercial cargoes can reach the island still reeling from the impacts of Hurricane Maria.

More than six weeks after the storm hit, the domestic maritime industry now has 25 Jones Act-qualified vessels in regular service to the island, according to new numbers compiled by the American Maritime Partnership. These 25 vessels – comprised of state-of-the-art containerships, roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) barges, load-on/load-off (lo/lo) barges, and offshore supply vessels – include nine that have entered into the regular Puerto Rico trade since Hurricane Maria made landfall.

Carriers have also acquired additional 53-foot containers and chassis’ to support the surplus of standard deliveries to the island.

As of November 16, these Jones Act vessels have delivered more than 36,000 containers with millions of pounds of commercial and relief cargo to Puerto Rico.

In order to handle increased volume, some domestic carriers have added mainland ports in the Northeast as ports of origin for cargoes destined for Puerto Rico, while others have increased vessels speeds to reduce transit times. At least one carrier now offers sailings virtually every day of the week from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico, according to the AMP.

Along with the vessels in regular service, additional Jones Act vessels are providing occasional service to the island, with more vessels available if needed.

As far as the much-need emergency relief cargoes, carriers are continuing to prioritize the transportation and distribution of FEMA cargoes to ensure that relief is getting to the island as quickly as possible.

According to the AMP, one Jones Act carrier reported dispatching 1.3 million meals and 2.77 million liters of water to the island, while another deployed 375 trucks to aid in on-island distribution. Over the course of one week, domestic operators reported delivering nearly 7,000 TEUs of water to Puerto Rico, including 1,500 FEMA loads of water, providing nearly 2 million liters per day to the island’s residents, the AMP said.

In addition to vital good like food, water and fuel, thousands of units of specialized equipment, including rolling stock, generators, poles (electrical and communications) and other cargoes necessary to rebuild the island, have been delivered. As an example, one tug/barge unit from Louisiana delivered self-powered cellular communication towers critical to re-establishing communication on the island, as well as vehicles, housing, bulk fuel, and food. Another carrier is transporting the initial batch of what will eventually total 32,000 utility poles, which are crucial to fixing the island’s destroyed power grid.

“The Jones Act has not added difficulties to the recovery in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The goods getting to the port were not the problem. It was the distribution from the port into the country where the need was at that was the difficulty,” said Congressman John Rutherford (R-FL). “The U.S. maritime industry are first responders in times of emergency like Hurricane Irma and Maria and Jacksonville is ground zero for getting shipments of goods to Puerto Rico quickly reliably and economically… They have proven themselves committed to meeting Puerto Rico’s immediate needs while also supporting the long term restoration of the island’s economy.”

“Finally, I hope once and for all to put the idea to rest the idea that somehow the Jones Act is inhibiting the recovery of Puerto Rico,” said Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “The problem has been the logistics of getting those out of the port.”

Jones Act carriers have provided regular, dedicated service to Puerto Rico for decades, and in recent years have made investments in the trade totaling nearly $1 billion. As part of these investments, Jones Act carriers support thousands of jobs in Puerto Rico. 

“The men and women of the American maritime industry stand committed to the communities in Puerto Rico impacted by Hurricane Maria, where many of our own employees and their families reside and are working around the clock to respond to the communities in need. As our industry has done in past natural disasters, we are actively working with the Administration, FEMA, MARAD, and relief organizations to deploy quickly and deliver essential goods like food, fuel, first aid supplies, and building materials,” said Thomas A. Allegretti, Chairman of the American Maritime Partnership.

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