Interview: Joseph E. Farrell III
Born to the business, Farrell will succeed his father one day at the helm. In the meantime, there’s work to do – both commercially and on the humanitarian front.
(Article originally published in Nov/Dec 2019 edition.)
Let’s start with a little history. Tell us about Resolve Marine and how it got started.
Resolve was started 36 years ago by my father. It was a small, domestic tug operation that he and my Mom ran out of our house. Most of the work for the first 15 years was in the Caribbean, in the Bahamas. Resolve is very familiar with working in that region, before and after “hurricane season,” which runs from June through November.
Resolve learned that there are quick wins in relief you can provide after a hurricane. Because of work and projects, we were always there, even when hurricanes hit. After 30 years, Resolve is used to going to a third world country, regions without many resources. We’ve been equipped to show up and run our operations without any outside help. We’ve always made sure we could give a valuable assist to the local community and government after a disaster like Hurricane Dorian, or like the earthquake in Haiti. Our values are built around rapid response, tolerance for risk and going in before airports and ports open up.
Mission Resolve is a natural outgrowth of that humanitarian impulse, of our company’s culture, of Dad’s personality. It’s a purpose-built entity, focused only on relief.
Cool. Tell us more about Mission Resolve, the foundation. What was its effort after Dorian?
Mission Resolve was in the works a year before the hurricane. The core mission of our company is “safer, better and cleaner.” When the hurricane hit, we had assets and capability there. We started funneling donations and resources because we knew where they needed to go. Then we set up the supply chain. Mission Resolve is a nonprofit entity for this kind of effort.
What were the immediate concerns of your team before the hurricane hit?
We had guys stay there before it became a Category 5. We had a barge in Freeport. Our immediate concern was the safety of our crews, so we evacuated a lot of other guys. When the hurricane parked over Freeport, that was unexpected. but we had people there who could immediately survey the surroundings and evaluate what was needed.
Everything that wasn’t a steel box was torn open from the hurricane. We had a team in the office here anticipating what was going to happen. Of course large vessels couldn’t get in. There was going to be a lack of water, damaged infrastructure, and so forth.
Our initial effort was lining up a pipeline to get supplies in. One of our guys told us that a hurricane one or two decades ago tainted the water supply because when the table rises, the salinity doesn’t separate. We knew they were going to have a water issue. That’s why we sourced our systems with reverse osmosis.
What did you see when you started moving assets back to the hurricane zone?
From a strategic standpoint, it was the lack of a pipeline or supply chain to get things there. We needed to survey the port to make sure it was clear. The first use of the water was setting up a dedicated supply chain for people and hospitals, taking the tainted water and scraping all the minerals out of it to get pure water at the water plant, also getting trucks with bladders on them that could be filled from the water plant and driving to the hospitals to fill the other water bladders.
We carried 5,000 gallons of water every day. There were a lot of requests for donations, for demand and supply, but it wasn’t totally synched up. That’s when we started asking for information from the local authorities on what they needed, taking the information and trying to streamline it to be efficient. The last thing you want to do is ship an entire container over and not have it used.
What was unique about this situation compared with others you’ve witnessed?
In this case, a lot of people needed to evacuate. There just weren’t enough resources to keep people there who weren’t contributing to the relief effort. The resources were wiped out. We had a couple of cruise ships go over to help evacuate people – people who couldn’t contribute to the rebuilding effort. Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line brought 1,400 evacuees back from Freeport to West Palm on its first mission. It then transported 500 responders to Freeport to help – medics, firefighters, EMTs, doctors, NGOs. A third trip brought the Miami Dolphins there with 300 generators for the residents.
Who was leading the way on the relief efforts?
The U.S. Coast Guard came in and did a lot of the immediate rescue work. We were there to help with the supply chain, which took a few days to set up. NEMA (the Bahamas’ version of FEMA) has now taken over, as it should, coordinating the operation with all of us and the Bahamian government. It was a joint effort. We worked with SEACOR Island Lines and others in setting up an effective supply chain so people could donate and give supplies.
I understand there’s a lot of supplies still in the warehouses.
The emergency phase has dialed back. We’re dealing with long-term issues now like infrastructure and sustainability. There’s a surplus of some supplies, yes. We’re evaluating how to improve the rebuilding effort.
What about the long-term recovery?
When it comes to rebuilding houses, it’s going to be a balance between what people can afford and what the government can afford. The ideal house is 10 feet off the ground, on concrete, with impact windows. But I don’t think that kind of capital is there.
What’s the story behind the forklifts you brought?
We had an employee named Marc Bush who passed away and left his life insurance to my Dad in gratitude. There was a need for these forklifts, so we used that money to buy them. The name of the employee is now on all the forklifts. We’ve trained locals to operate them, and we have our own mobile forklift division.
Was the Bahamian government able to help with the relief effort?
I wouldn’t say they weren’t ready to respond, but they were wiped out by the magnitude of the impact. Nobody could really be ready for a Cat 5 hurricane. The minute people showed up with resources to help out, they responded appropriately and did their best. The government has now taken over the response, but they were wiped clean in the beginning. Their immediate concern was also their family and personal survival.
Who’s paying the company’s bills for the relief efforts?
For Mission Resolve, Resolve Marine is the big parent sponsor. A lot of other small donations also started to add up. Other companies, like SEACOR, did it on their own dime. We do salvage and emergency response, offshore and worldwide. That is funded by a lot of entities: insurance companies, governments, shipowners.
What are your challenges at Resolve Marine as an organization, given your long experience in so many emergency situations?
I think we’ve grown to a level where we’re recognized as a world leader in these operations. One of our challenges is to figure out how to grow with a limited capable workforce. By the time our guys are out there in the field doing this, they probably spent four or five years in the industry learning from being a diver or a naval architect. It really takes that long to be confident in such a situation. The workforce is small for international salvage – it’s not something you go to college for. We’re looking to keep growing our pool of talent. We have the best people in the world for emergency response.
How do you see Mission Resolve growing? Will it follow behind Resolve Marine in these situations?
It clarifies things from the Resolve Marine Group standpoint. Now there’s a clear line between the two entities’ roles. Resolve Marine focuses on getting the job done and tackling the commercial challenges in addition to helping with the relief effort. As mentioned, we bought forklifts to organize the aid being donated. People are being trained to drive them, so we don’t have to use our guys to move all the supplies.
What’s a typical day like for you at Resolve Marine?
Last week I was in Boston for a wind energy conference. This week I’m going to Washington to meet up with some political types. Next week we get back to work. Today I run most of the non-core business units although most of my background was in the core units for emergency response. My challenge is to tie the non-core units to the core ones.
I had a meeting this morning at a maritime academy that’s using our various simulators for a fire-salvage response simulation. We’re coordinating barges from the Middle East, streamlining our fleet division. I always seek fine talent and improvement. And on and on it goes. Never a dull moment!
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.