Jones Act carriers add more Puerto Rico capacity

Jones Act carriers add more Puerto Rico capacity

A TOTE Maritime barge prepares for departure from the Port of Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. Photo credit: TOTE Maritime

US-flag domestic carriers Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime have added more barges to their Puerto Rico services in the latest infusion of US-flag carrier capacity to support hurricane relief and rebuilding on the island.

The added Puerto Rico capacity by Crowley, TOTE, and fellow Jones Act carriers Trailer Bridge and Pasha comes as recovery from Hurricane Maria has rekindled debate over the Jones Act, which restrict US domestic shipments to US-flag, US-built vessels owned and crewed by US citizens.

Four congressional bills have been introduced to amend or repeal the Jones Act, but the bills face long odds. A coalition of US carriers, shipyards, and maritime unions has fought off numerous previous efforts to weaken or kill the act, and has mobilized against the latest legislation.

The Trump administration issued a Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico after the hurricane, but allowed it to expire after reports that delays in delivery of relief supplies were the result of damaged inland infrastructure and driver shortages, not availability of US-flag vessels.

Inland delivery in Puerto Rico remains a problem. Crowley said pickup of containers from its San Juan terminal continues to lag, and that return of empty boxes to the terminal has been slow. Jose Ayala, vice president for Crowley’s Puerto Rico services, said Crowley has added more than 5,000 containers and several hundred chassis to make up for slower equipment turn times.

With its retrofitting of two of its heavy-lift, flat-deck barges for service between the US mainland and Puerto Rico, Crowley now operates 16 vessels in the service, compared with nine before Hurricane Maria devastated the commonwealth in late September.

Together with five previously added flat-deck tug and barge combinations, Crowley has increased vessel capacity by 67 percent since the hurricane, and now has almost daily sailings between the mainland and San Juan, said Cole Cosgrove, vice president of marine operations.

Crowley said it has discharged 11,000 loads of commercial and relief supplies, including more than 4,000 loads for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), at San Juan since the storm and that several thousand more loads, including more than 1,600 for FEMA, have been booked for shipment.

The newly retrofitted flat-deck barges — 400 feet long by 105 feet wide — were outfitted to carry stacked shipping containers on deck. Crowley’s regular service is roll-on, roll-off, but the carrier also can handle lift-on, lift-off cargo since the installation of three new container cranes at its San Juan terminal in preparation for two new liquefied natural gas-fueled ships Crowley is building for its Puerto Rico service.

TOTE already has replaced its older ships in Puerto Rico with two new LNG-fueled container ships. The carrier said its Perla del Caribe and Isla Bella have delivered a combined total of some 2,200 containers of relief goods and commercial cargo from Jacksonville to San Juan on their latest voyages.

The carrier’s newly deployed barges also are on the Jacksonville-San Juan route. The first of the barges departed Jacksonville this week with 375 FEU of cargo, and the second is due to leave early next week with 350 FEU, the company said.

“The addition of these barges to our service offering will allow us to better support the increasing and changing needs of Puerto Rico as relief, recovery, and rebuilding goods are all being shipped to the island,” said Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico.

TOTE Maritime has also secured more than 2,000 containers and chassis, including refrigerated containers and flat-racks for moving items such as utility trucks, and has extended the gate hours at its San Juan and Jacksonville terminals.

Trailer Bridge, the third liner operator in the US mainland-Puerto Rico trade, last month added a fifth barge to its service between Jacksonville and San Juan. Pasha, a Jones Act carrier in the Hawaii trade, has taken an old former Horizon Lines ship out of layup for delivery of bottled water to the island.

Contact Joseph Bonney at joseph.bonney@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @JosephBonney.