By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is moving rapidly to resolve a cargo backlog caused by hurricane damage at the Freeport Container Port, which is impacting the timely delivery of freight to Nassau and other global destinations.
Michael Maura, Arawak Port Development Company’s (APD) chief executive, confirmed that Freeport Container Port - a key MSC hub - had been “seriously impacted” by Hurricane Matthew’s winds.
Two of its gantry cranes “collapsed” as a result of the storm, he explained, while others were also impacted, though not destroyed.
As a result, MSC’s ability to load/off-load containers from its vessels calling at Freeport has been impeded, disrupting logistics chains and supply lines to Bahamian businesses and consumers in Nassau.
Many New Providence-based companies prefer to ship imported product via MSC’s Jacksonville port, in a bid to avoid the extra costs involved in transporting goods further south to the Miami area via road.
MSC, one of the two major shipping lines servicing Nassau together with Tropical Shipping, sails to Freeport first from Jacksonville, with Nassau-bound cargo often dropped off their first before going on the capital.
The Tribune itself is among the companies impacted by the current inability to load Nassau-bound cargo in Freeport, although the resulting delays will not impact operations.
This newspaper was told that one container shipment, originally destined for arrival in Nassau on October 10, is still in Freeport and will now not appear until October 27.
Another of The Tribune’s containers from Jacksonville ended up being re-routed to MSC’s Dominican Republic hub as a result of Matthew, and its anticipated Nassau arrival date has been pushed back from October 24 to December 12.
It is unclear how badly other Bahamas-based businesses are affected, but the cargo backlog and shipment delays could impact supply chains for several months.
Executives at the Freeport Container Port could not be reached for comment yesterday, but Mr Maura, head of the Nassau Container Port, said MSC was working feverishly to solve the post-Matthew problems.
He explained that the carrier was having to place extra reliance on its “geared ship”, ‘City of Hanoi’, which has its own cranes on board, to pick up shipping containers in Freeport.
“What they’re having to do is kind of make the best of a bad situation,” Mr Maura told Tribune Business.
“The City of Hanoi has always been deployed between Jacksonville, Freeport, the Dominican Republic, and she also has to call here in Nassau.
“She’s now having to make a much larger loop, or what we call ‘vessel string’, which is delaying the ability of that cargo to move between Freeport and Nassau.”
MSC also brings Nassau-bound cargo that does not originate in the US through Freeport, potentially adding to the backlog.
Mr Maura, though, said the damage to the Freeport Container Port was “much bigger” than just an issue for Nassau, given that the facility acted as a global transhipment hub for MSC.
“There’s cargo going through Freeport to the rest of the world,” he added. “They have to find a solution very quickly, and that’s what they’re doing to address all these issues.
“MSC is trying to deal with an unfortunate situation as best they can. They’re not doing it to make life difficult for Nassau; they’ve got to recover like everyone else.”
Besides the City of Hanoi’s extra employment, Mr Maura said MSC was also “exploring ways of getting additional ships with cranes into Freeport”.
And it was also examining ways to divert global cargo to Port Everglades and its hub there, bringing shipments directly into Nassau from Florida via its vessel, the ‘Allegro’.
“They’re looking at a couple of things; other vessels and redeploying cargo to Port Everglades to expedite cargo into Nassau,” Mr Maura added.
He emphasised, though, that the Bahamas had been “very lucky” in that Matthew had not caused further disruption to the ports and shipping lines on which local commerce relies so heavily.
“It could have been much worse,” Mr Maura added, pointing out that the storm came extremely close to Palm Beach, the port from which Tropical Shipping sails.