Jones Act carriers add capacity to aid Puerto Rico

Jones Act carriers add capacity to aid Puerto Rico

Carriers are adding extra capacity to keep up with the flood of cargo into Puerto Rico.

Jones Act carrier Crowley says it has added six vessels to its fleet, while Trailer Bridge has added a vessel and taken other steps to expedite aid shipments to Puerto Rico as inland distribution remains challenging and slows the island’s recovery.

Underscoring the challenges of inland distribution on the US island, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Tuesday said that it had air dropped supplies to 11 communities and that only 7.8 percent, or 392 miles of Puerto Rico's 5,073 miles of road, are open.

Crowley said that by the end of this week more than 6,500 loads of FEMA and commercial cargo from 20 vessels will have arrived since Hurricane Maria decimated the island in late September. The company expects another nine vessels carrying between 2,500 and 3,000 loads will arrive in Puerto Rico next week.

“Crowley’s vessel calls and loads carried since the onset of the storm is more than double our normal weekly volume,” said Crowley’s John Hourihan Jr., senior vice president and general manager of Puerto Rico services. “Most of the additional cargo consists of water, ready-to-eat meals, and other relief supplies, as well as utility trucks, fuel trucks, and many other types of rolling equipment on behalf of FEMA.”

However, that surge in cargo has led to operational challenges in the Port of San Juan, where the cargo backlog at the company’s Isla Grande Terminal is twice the normal amount, even as the pace of loads leaving the terminal is closing in on the typical rate of 400 to 500 loads per day, Crowley said.

In addition to providing a critical relief role in getting goods to and out of the port, Crowley has been using its forklifts and operators at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport to help expedite the unloading of air cargo shipments.

In addition to adding vessel capacity, Trailer Bridge, which like Crowley operates barges, has cut half of a day from transit times by ordering its tugs to travel at faster speeds, the company said.

Trailer Bridge has also leased 150,000 square feet of warehouse space in San Juan to help shippers that are still unable to access their own distribution centers, and increased its 40-foot chassis and 40-foot container fleet by more than 20 percent. The company has also purchased more 53-foot containers and added 53-foot trailer capacity via long-term leases.

Critically, Trailer Bridge has also put in place a full-time staff to convert its operations to wheeled and grounded in Jacksonville and San Juan to free up more chassis.

Contact Dustin Braden at dustin.braden@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @dustin_joc.