Foreign-Flagged Ship Carries American Aid to Puerto Rico

File image via Shipspotting

Published Oct 22, 2017 9:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Late on the night of October 8, the Marshall Islands-flagged freighter Clipper Newhaven pulled away from a pier in Baltimore, Maryland, bound for Puerto Rico with six million bottles of water for survivors of Hurricane Maria. She was just in time: the Trump administration's cabotage waiver for relief cargo would expire for shipments that were not fully loaded by the end of the day. The Newhaven arrived in Ponce, Puerto Rico on October 13, bringing a small measure of relief for the island’s water shortage. A leading freight forwarder confirmed the shipment. 

The Newhaven's sailing is among roughly one dozen voyages completed under the Trump administration's Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico. Customs and Border Protection, the agency responsible for administering Jones Act compliance, confirmed this week that 11 vessels have completed waivered voyages, with more under way. Industry sources suggest that the majority of these shipments carried small quantities of cargo, but further details are not yet available. The Newhaven is the only vessel identified to date that has completed a waivered voyage. 

The 10-day Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico relief is controversial among American vessel operators and mariners. The industry group American Maritime Partnership asserts that sufficient domestic tonnage is available to serve the relief effort, with over 23 vessels making regular sailings to Puerto Rico. Many U.S. shipping executives agree. “If the Jones Act were hurting Puerto Rico, I would be opposed to it. In fact, Jones Act providers are central to helping Puerto Rico rebuild, and they will continue to reliably deliver cargo long after TV cameras have departed," said Eduardo Pagan, Vice President and General Manager of Caribbean Services for TOTE Maritime, one of the leading operators on the Puerto Rico-U.S. trade lane.

TOTE has increased its capacity by twenty percent since Hurricane Maria, and has delivered over 7,000 containers of cargo to the island to date, including vital relief cargo like water and electrical generators. Its cargo terminal in San Juan – temporarily slowed by a trucking shortage after the storm – has returned to normal operational levels. 

Florida-based competitor Crowley Maritime has also increased its capacity, chartering in six flat-deck barges to augment its sailings from Jaxport to San Juan. The additional tonnage raised its total number of slots by forty percent. “Given all that the island needs, we view all cargo – government and commercial – as vital to our recovery,” said Jose “Pache” Ayala, vice president, Puerto Rico services in a recent statement. “We are encouraged to see commercial customers slowly beginning to get back up and running.” Crowley says that it will be offering over 6,000 commercial cargo slots per month beginning in November, in addition to 1,700 booked federal relief shipments.