Despite projections that it will take months to rebuild the primary, deep-draft port in Port au Prince, Haiti, construction and shipping industry representatives are confident they can pour loads of building materials and heavy equipment into the earthquake-damaged country.

Photos: Seaboard Marine, a subsidiary of Seaboard Corp. (, Merriam, Kansas.
Haitian recovery efforts may hinge on shallow-draft ships like these unloading supplies.

“The port being destroyed won’t be a hindrance to getting equipment in there, not if you have an experienced heavy lift operator who knows what they are doing,” says Jerry Nagel, CEO of U.S. operations for Rickmers-Linie, Hamburg, Germany. “Most of the time we bring equipment to jobsites that aren’t on the main port. We’re moving in very primitive situations, so we are always engineering and improvising in order to land a piece of equipment.”

Government recovery and rebuilding officials haven’t issued orders yet, but shippers are certain they will come soon. “I saw an RFQ last week for a couple ships to go down there, but we didn’t have a ship in the area at the time,” Nagel says. Rickmers is on a liner schedule, which means it calls at certain ports at certain times to drop or pick up cargo. “We can pick up or drop off cargo anywhere, and we go past Haiti all the time,” Nagel says.

Most of Haiti’s trade typically goes through ports in Florida, particularly the Port of Miami or the Miami River, which is a separate port, says Rex Sherman, research director at the American Association of Port Authorities, Alexandria, Va.  The U.S. Navy, and some shipping companies, have assets and operating skills that enable them to move cargo without waiting on ports with particular landing structure.

Nagel says Rickmers could bring in a ship that has the capacity to hydraulically lift a barge over the side. “We might place equipment on a barge fitted with wheels, lift it over the side, beach the barge, then put steel plates and beams on the end and weld it to the barge to make an improvised ramp,” Nagel says. “Turn the logisticians loose and they’ll figure out how to do it. We like to say the heavier, bigger and uglier it is, the more we like it.” Any good, heavy-haul operator can probably get it in there, he says.

Rickmers-Linie is one of several shipping lines that specializes in big lifts and �can move several hundred cranes at a time� as well as the type of oversized and overweight pieces, like those used in water treatment facilities. Emergency contractors will probably soon be deploying water treatment units in Haiti.

Weeks Marine, Cranston, N.J., was “quoting equipment and giving information,” as early as Jan. 22, says Tom Weeks, who heads the heavy lift division. “Nothing has panned out yet,” he says. “I don’t think anybody will be making decisions for another week until they assess the situation down there.”  The Shaw Group, Inc., Baton Rouge, La., as well as other contractors who are holding standing emergency contract awards, is waiting for task orders to be issued, says Gentry Brann, director of corporate communications.

But ports across the country are gearing up to support that traffic. “We don’t normally have a regular service to Haiti, but we have expertise in handling that type of cargo—oversized and overweight pieces, heavy equipment,” says Chris Bonura, communications manager for the Port of New Orleans. “We are getting a lot of requests from people who want to get relief materials to Haiti, to do something to help, and the International Longshoreman’s Association has offered to volunteer their time to help load when we get to that.”

Crowley Maritime Corp., Oakland, Calif., working under contract with the U.S. Transportation Command, began an experimental unloading of 12, 20-foot containers of water and meals-ready-to-eat from the container ship Marcajama in Port-au-Prince on Friday. Crowley had dropped off 56 similar containers on Jan. 20 in Rio Haina, Dominican Republic, to be hauled into Haiti overland.

The Crowley experimental lightering plan called for the Marcajama to anchor offshore near the port's damaged south pier near an exposed beach. Using a shipboard crane on the Marcajama, the containers were to be lowered onto a smaller vessel operated by G and G Shipping and delivered across the beach on wheels. If successful, future shipments could be made directly to Port-au-Prince.

A team from Crowley’s TITAN Salvage subsidiary surveyed the port area Jan. 18 and determined the operation was possible. They also determined that it would be possible to establish a temporary docking structure on the beach using a Crowley 400-foot-long by 100-foot-wide flat deck barge. Crowley is mobilizing such a barge and a crane from Orange, Texas that could be used for cargo discharge, and plans to have both on the scene in Port-au-Prince on, or about, Feb. 2. The company has signed a contract with the U.S. Transportation Command to operate two such 400-foot flat-deck barges to form a makeshift pier “that would support regular cargo operations,” it was reported on Friday.

Seaboard Marine (, an ocean transportation company that is a subsidiary of Seaboard Corporation, Merriam, Kan., anticipates its vessel, Seaboard Sun, loaded with food and relief supplies, will arrive in Haiti by Jan. 26. 

“Our goal is to be the first commercial vessel to return to Port au Prince, but on a very limited basis,” says Todd Wilke, Seaboard spokesperson. The Seaboard Sun is a multi-purpose, shallow draft vessel with ramp capabilities, which means it doesn’t need a pier to receive and offload shipments. Seaboard has such vessels to serve its ongoing flour milling operations, where subsidized grain is milled and distributed in Haiti and other impoverished countries.

“Since Jan. 21, Seaboard staff has been working to rebuild the Les Moulins d’Haiti mill at the Lafiteau dock, which is about 10 miles from Port au Prince,” Wilke says. The Seaboard Sun will go back and forth between Kingston, Jamaica and Lafiteau, delivering supplies for major relief organizations with “proven on the ground distribution networks,” Wilke says. “We also will have two sailings a week from the Port of Miami to Kingston that will be carrying additional relief cargo.”

Even high-speed catamarans are useful in the massive shipping operation. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration mobilized six of the vessels with shallow draft, offload capabilities. All are either being prepared now or are already loading cargo. All are owned or controlled by MARAD and will be crewed by civilian U.S. merchant mariners.

Additionally, ports from around the world are making individual and collective efforts to help, Sherman says. The Halifax Port Authority is waiving tariff charges for humanitarian relief shipments bound for Haiti, including direct calls on the island of Hispaniola. The Board of Commissioners of the Port of Palm Beach District has waived wharfage and dockage charges for shipments of relief supplies to Haiti for the next six months.