Business is slowly returning to normal in the shipping industry, a month after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast, inflicting serious damages to port facilities in the heavily trafficked New York/New Jersey region.
The storm threatened to derail the busy Christmas barrel season for Caribbean shippers with a number of them reporting water damage and losses to cargo that was at the Red Hook Terminal in Brooklyn, New York and the Newark Terminal in New Jersey.
October-December is the busiest calendar period for Caribbean freight operators as thousands of Caribbean nationals maintain the end-of-year tradition of sending home barrels of goods to their loved ones for Christmas.
CEO of Besco Shippers in Philadelphia, Anthony Harding says about eighty of his customers suffered losses as their barrels which were on a container at one of the ports were damaged by the flood waters. “I had 18 inches of water in my container.
All the barrels that were on the floor of the container were soaked. Some of them, their bottoms fell out... I had a guy who was sending home a sound system; that is all messed up,” he told The Gleaner.
“Rice, tin food, oil, all those items that people normally put at the bottom of a barrel - were wet,’ he added. food thrown out Harding said all those food items had to be thrown out and while some customers came in to re-pack their barrels others could not do so and asked his team to do it for them.
The company gave all the customers free replacement barrels. The affected shipment was destined for Jamaica. Harding noted that the majority of the customers had a positive attitude to their losses understanding that the storm was an act of Nature.
“They would say, ‘how bad is my barrel’? They would say they have a DVD in there or home appliances. One lady was concerned about her sugar. She had a whole lot of sugar. Overall customers were concerned but not upset. It was all positive,” Harding disclosed.
Still, he said his container was in good condition compared to others which were positioned at other sections of the terminals and which were inundated with water, sand and debris and were totally destroyed.
Other operators, not necessarily Caribbean, were shipping commercial goods and vehicles, and lost huge shipments. In fact, many of the operators were nervously waiting to find out the extent of the disaster on their business.
More than two weeks after the hurricane passed several shippers had no idea what had happened to their cargo which were at the ports. Communication was sketchy in the days following Sandy’s passage and the terminals were closed as port authority officials conducted damage assessment and repairs.
The storm created a huge tidal surge that saw water from the New York Harbour roaring through and destroying pier facilities, infrastructure, homes and businesses along the New York/New Jersey shoreline.
Both Red Hook and Newark Terminals were extensively damaged and had to be shutdown with Newark, one of the largest container terminals in the U.S., opening for limited service eight days later. Red Hook, the worst affected took much longer to become operational.
Managing Director of Trans Caribe Shipping in East Orange, New Jersey, Roy Rutty told the Weekly Gleaner that he had three containers at the Red Hook pier at the time and scores of concerned clients who were calling to ascertain the fate of their goods.
For weeks he had no news to tell them. Finally, he got word that all three containers which were to be transported to Jamaica - were safe. It was very good news for one client in particular who was returning to Jamaica after years of living abroad.
The woman, Mr. Rutty said, was very distraught as one of the containers had all of her earthly possessions including a car. She was spared a total wipe-out. However, while Hurricane Sandy has delayed some shipment to Jamaica it is not expected to significantly disrupt the peak shipping season.
While no vessels were able to depart from the New York/New Jersey area during the period when the ports were closed, it is understood that since Newark’s re-opening a number of shipments have departed from there for the Caribbean.
But the Newark Terminal which handles some ninety-percent of business in the Greater New York Area has experienced a serious backlog with reports coming in of upwards of 800 tractor trailers lined up at the port on a given day to either ship out or receive goods.
The hurricane, along with the power outage, the gas shortage and the snow storm which followed caused significant delays in the entire supply and demand chain of the shipping industry. Caribbean shippers have reported that there are now not enough empty containers to load their cargo.
Barrels and other merchandise that would normally have been shipped out twice per week have piled up in the shippers’ warehouses during the period when the ports were closed down.
Sandy also struck during the busiest season and as more Christmas barrels continue to come in, they add to the backlog creating a serious demand for the empty 40-ft containers onto which they are loaded for transshipment on the large shipping vessels.
“Fifty containers came in last week and they have already gone,” Mr. Harding said. “Sandy has caused a back-up.” Part of the problem has to do as well with the fact that Sea Board Marine which operates mainly from the heavily hit Red Hook Terminal suffered significant losses and reportedly have not been able to deliver containers as they normally would.
Sea Board is one of the main freight lines that services Jamaica and has a virtual monopoly on Montego Bay. But the operators are confident that normalcy will resume as the storm-ravaged region slowly regains its footing.
“We are New Yorkers. We are strong. We will bounce back from Sandy and get back to normal business,” said Alphanso Jackson, Managing Director of Quality One Shipping in the Bronx.
He noted that while the storm curtailed pick up of barrels from customers for a few days due to mostly down power lines and debris in some communities, pick ups had resumed in most neighbourhoods, and the barrel season still looked promising.
“We had a great start and then we had Hurricane Sandy and the snow storm. But we’re moving forward and I still think we will moving more freight than in 2010 and 2011,” Mr. Jackson said.
He pointed out that Jamaica also felt the brunt of Sandy and overseas residents have been sending and intend to send shipments of goods to assist their affected families back home.
One shipper in the New Jersey area says he has been picking up upwards of six to eight barrels per customer in recent weeks from Jamaican customers. “It’s a Caribbean thing.
People will always be sending stuff. They are gonna send a clothes barrel and a food barrel,” Mr. Harding in Philadelphia summarized. “Typical Jamaican women - they will do overtime to make up the money, just to make sure that everybody in Jamaica get what them must get.”