Home / General / Sealift, Airlift, and Distribution Infrastructure

Sealift, Airlift, and Distribution Infrastructure

Ponce as seen from El Vigía, with the Caribbean Sea and Caja de Muertos in the background. By Jose Oquendo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

It’s worth sounding a note of caution about analyses of the situation in Puerto Rico which focus on the Jones Act:

Thousands of cargo containers bearing millions of emergency meals and other relief supplies have been piling up on San Juan’s docks since Saturday. The mountains of materiel may not reach storm survivors for days.

Distributors for big-box companies and smaller retailers are unloading 4,000 20-foot containers full of necessities like food, water and soap this week at a dock in Puerto Rico’s capital operated by Crowley Maritime Corp.In the past few days, Tote Maritime’s terminal has taken the equivalent of almost 3,000. The two facilities have become choke points in the effort to aid survivors of Hurricane Maria…

Trucks are ready to be loaded with the goods and precious diesel for backup generators, but workers aren’t around to drive. Instead, they’re caring for families and cleaning up flood damage — and contending with the curfew.

The buildings that would receive supplies are destroyed and without electricity, Miller said. The transport companies that have staff available and diesel on hand encounter downed poles and power lines while navigating 80,000-pound tractor-trailers on delicate washed-out roads.

“It’s one thing to move a little car through there,” Miller said. “It’s another to move a semi truck.”

Apart from the major ring highway that goes around the island, the roads in Puerto Rico are not great under the best of circumstances. The terrain is mountainous, and heavy rain and wind have likely made roads impassable in many parts of the interior. Puerto Rico is not unlike West Virginia in regards to the need for heavy investment just to keep roads open, but it is unlike West Virginia in that no one passes through PR to get anywhere else. In these circumstances, it is not faintly surprising that the major chokepoint is port and road capacity, rather than sealift capacity.  That said, the Jones Act in general is quite bad for Puerto Rico, imposing costs on the island while benefitting mainland shipping and labor interests.

I would recommend Carl Prine’s twitter feed for a lot of detail on the logistical problems associated with both sealift and airlift. A couple days ago David Simon engaged with Prine while making a specious Berlin Airlift-PR comparison, and got absolutely destroyed on details.  Pointing out that simple narratives are, in face, complicated is not the same thing as defending the Trump administration’s response to the PR crisis.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
It is main inner container footer text