Port Recovery in Haiti: The Initial Stages

The 12 January earthquake in Haiti destroyed many of the buildings, including infrastructure facilities not only in Port au Prince, the Haitian capital, but also in the numerous towns and villages surrounding that city; millions of people were left homeless and hundreds of thousands were killed (and/or missing and presumed dead).  The buildings and infrastructure of the main cargo port in Port Au Prince also sustained major damage and were closed indefinitely. Most of the piers in the port also were destroyed and most if not quite all of the port’s cargo cranes had toppled into the water. In short, the port was useless, and likely to remain so for a long time to come.

Joseph E. Farrell Jr., president of the Resolve Marine Group, saw the damage that had been done to the port, and to the city, and felt compelled to act. “We had a ship heading from Fort Lauderdale to its homeport in Alabama, and decided to turn it around and bring it back to Port Everglades to take on fuel and supplies before heading to Port au Prince,” Farrell later commented.  “I had seen this type of damage before and didn’t want to waste any valuable time.”

Farrell had no contract at the time, and had not been hired by any private or government agency, but he decided to fuel his ship, load it with salvage equipment and relief supplies, and get underway for Port au Prince as soon as possible. He knew that the port had to be opened in order for the huge shipments of relief supplies needed – and many tons of it already loaded aboard on an ad hoc flotilla of relief ships – to get into the hands of the suffering Haitian people.  Farrell and his Resolve team had previously been involved in other large-scale disasters, and had spent considerable time working in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Devastation, Destruction, and Both Short- and Long-Term Damage Nonetheless, they simply could not believe what they saw when they arrived in Port au Prince. “We arrived … [there] on January 23rd and were astounded at the devastation we saw,” Farrell said.  “The private port and the main public port in Port au Prince … [had been] rendered completely useless and the city’s infrastructure was completely destroyed.  We knew we needed to get the ports operational as quickly as possible.”

The Resolve team, led by Farrell, started immediately working on Port Varreux, just north of the city’s main port.  Once on scene Resolve was hired by the owners or Port Varreux.  Within five days Port Varreux was semi-operational and able to receive a limited amount of fuel and other cargo.  The Resolve team established a 400 foot landing zone along the beach to accept cargo from small landing craft.  The Farrell-led team, working on contract with Crowley Marine and Titan through the U.S. military/Transcom, turned its attention to the main port to organize the short- and long-term repair process. It was impossible to drive on the docks in the main port, Farrell later recalled, “because most of the pilings were sheered, the docks were broken apart, and the major cargo offloading crane also had fallen into the water.” An estimated 95 percent of the docks in the port, he continued, had been damaged or destroyed, “so we knew … [it] was going to be a long-term project to get the port operational.”

An All-American Effort & Private-Sector Assistance Farrell and his Resolve Group team and Crowley/Titan worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and other American naval and military units that had been deployed to Haiti to determine what would be the most effective plan of action. 

“Once we had the landing zone in place in Port Varreux,” Farrell said, “we started working to clear the containers and cranes from the water and [to] repair the damaged docks in the main port. We [also] worked with Crowley Marine and Seacor to get the port and fuel system online.”

Security has been a major concern of almost all of the relief agencies and private-sector companies working in Port au Prince and the surrounding area. The Resolve Group team experienced no security problems in the early stages, though, Farrell said, and the Haitian people have been extremely appreciative of the job the Resolve team and other organizations are doing.  His team realizes, Farrell said, that full recovery is going to be a long-term project and will require a partnership with the Haitian government, and the Haitian people, because the long-term “fix” could take up to ten years.

“This is not going to be a short-term fix,” Farrell said.  The Haitian government should “consider building a new port,” he added, “because it is going to be very difficult to repair the damage” caused by the earthquake to the former port and its surroundings. 

Resolve Marine Group is currently working with Crowley Marine and other companies to get the current port’s main cargo crane out of the water sometime in late February. Most of the companies and government agencies involved in the port-recovery effort are using barges to offload cargo into the still crippled port, and at the same time are seeking to get more barges in place to offload as much additional cargo as possible.  Through their efforts, more than 1,000 containers loaded with relief supplies had already been moved ashore by the second week of February. So a great deal of progress has in fact been made – but everyone involved recognizes that much, much more remains to be done.

Corey Ranslem

Corey D. Ranslem, chief executive officer of Secure Waters Security Group Inc. – a maritime-security and consulting firm heavily involved in maritime training, maritime security, and a broad spectrum of other security programs in the maritime field – is the former regional manager of Federal Government Operations for Smiths Detection. He has received numerous awards and citations from the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies and organizations active in the field of maritime security. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Political Science from the University of Northern Iowa and an MBA in International Business from Georgetown University; he has almost 18 years of experience in maritime law enforcement and security.



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