Rough Weather Forces US to Delay Opening of Gaza Aid Pier

Assembling a floating pier from a sealift ship (U.S. Navy file photo)
Assembling a floating pier from a sealift ship (U.S. Navy file photo)

Published May 5, 2024 11:10 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. military had expected to complete a floating pier for aid delivery off the coast of Gaza by Friday, but the plan has been set back by high seas in the eastern Mediterranean, according to the Pentagon. 

The U.S. Navy and Army are working together to deliver a Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS) capability to move up to 150 trucks of aid into Gaza. After Israel sharply tightened border security, shipments of food aid into the territory plummeted. While circumstances have improved after intense international pressure, truck crossing numbers are still lower than before the Israeli military operation began last fall. 

The UN has warned of a growing risk of starvation for Gazan residents - particularly in the northern end of the Gaza Strip. The maritime aid corridor is intended to help address that problem, in conjunction with continued truck-borne deliveries. 

The maritime aid corridor plan has been in the works since early March, and it involves a substantial mobilization of resources. Two Military Sealift Command ro/ro ships sailed to the Eastern Mediterranean to deliver the pontoon components for the JLOTS system, and five U.S. Army landing vessels made the long transatlantic crossing as well. The task of assembling the floating pier in the open ocean takes time and effort, and generally requires a calm sea state. That was what set back the timeline, officials said: divers need to inspect the pontoon connections underwater, but this is not safe to do in rough surface conditions. 

On Thursday, U.S. Central Command decided that the sea state was too high for safety, and it relocated the pier assembly process to the nearby Israeli port of Ashdod. "Assembly will continue and will be completed prior to the emplacement of the pier in its intended location," the command said in a statement. 

The plan was very close to entering operation, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Wednesday. "The floating pier has been completely constructed and set up; the causeway is in progress," she said. The operation relocated to Ashdod the following day, and the Pentagon has not released a revised timeline for starting up the operation. 

JLOTS exercises usually offload cargo from a Military Sealift Command ro/ro ship, but that will not be the case this time, officials told CNN. Instead, MSC has chartered a U.S.-flag geared container feeder, the Sagamore. The vessel's cranes are capable of self-unloading the ship's cargo onto a pier. Sagamore is currently moored in Cyprus, the western terminus of the maritime aid route.