Major Jones Act Carrier Says On-Island Distribution is Key to Getting Relief Supplies to Puerto Rico Residents

File photo: A Crowley container barge from the U.S. mainland arrives in Puerto Rico. Photo: Crowley

The key to getting relief supplies to citizens of Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria will be by expediting local transportation and distribution of cargo, according to executives at Crowley Puerto Rico Services, which currently has more than 3,000 loads of food, supplies and other cargo on its terminal in San Juan.

Crowley’s statement comes as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security denied a proposed request to suspend Jones Act regulations applying to Puerto Rico for a period of one year. 

Jacksonville-based Crowley is one of two main ocean carriers currently serving the Jones Act Puerto Rico trade with scheduled weekly service with containerships and container barges. Cargo and fuel is also imported to the island on foreign ships. 

Since Maria hit, Crowley has taken bookings for more than 2,700 container loads of relief cargo to be delivered to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix, many of which have been delivered, are in transport, or will be readied for transport in the coming days.

“We want to get goods to people as quickly and efficiently as possible, and to do that we need our customers to work with their truckers to take delivery of their cargo,” said Jose Ayala, Vice President of Crowley’s Puerto Rico services. “Once that begins to happen with greater frequency, we will need customers to unload and return empty containers so that we can bring more cargo to the island, which is suffering and in great need of life’s necessities.”

To handle the influx of cargo, Crowley’s says its logistics group has secured additional warehouse space in Puerto Rico and today it dispatched 50 relief trucks to deliver relief supplies to distribution centers around the island. The containers will be unloaded immediately and returned to Crowley for use in bringing more supplies to residents.

Crowley says it has also secured additional Jones Act-qualified vessels to handle government and commercial cargo to the island.

“Five new container deck barges with a combined capacity of more than 3,800 20-foot equivalent containers (TEUs) have been placed into service along with accompanying tugboats to tow them. They, along with Crowley’s existing vessel fleet, will operate continuously without a set schedule to get as much cargo to the island as quickly as possible and as many empty containers out of the island so that they can be returned with full loads.

Much of the relief cargo is being funneled through Jacksonville, where the company’s logistics unit is taking cargo out of over-the-road trailers and transferring it to ocean containers prior to being loaded on a vessel.

The Marine Merchant Act of 1920, aka the Jones Act, requires that all goods shipped between ports of the United States be carried by vessels built in the United States and owned and operated by American citizens. Still, about two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s imported cargo and nearly all of its oil and gas imports arrive via foreign ships from places outside the United States.