By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamian economy's supply chain was yesterday said to have been "very fortunate", as Hurricane Irma's more westward track will likely lead to an earlier cargo shipping resumption.
Michael Maura, Nassau Container Port's (NCP) chief executive, told Tribune Business that Irma's shift away from Florida's east coast will likely mean less damage to the four ports responsible for supplying New Providence with 75 per cent of its commercial freight.
As a result, he predicted that vessels belonging to Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), Tropical Shipping and other US carriers that service Nassau will be able to return to their Florida ports come Tuesday.
This, in turn, will likely result in the Arawak Cay port receiving its first freight shipments on Thursday, as opposed to "late next [this] week" as previously predicted by Mr Maura.
"From a Bahamian supply chain and trade standpoint, we have been very fortunate," Mr Maura said of Irma's current path. "Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with people on the west coast of Florida, but we have been very fortunate that the ports themselves, and the airports, have not been significantly impacted by Hurricane Irma."
With Port of Palm Beach, which supplies 50 per cent of NCP's freight, and the ports of Miami, Everglades and Jacksonville that supply a further collective 25 per cent, all outside the hurricane-force winds, Mr Maura predicted they would suffer less damage.
This will lessen the chance that debris will block their harbours, channels and berths, thus enabling the four ports to be cleared for opening - and shipping vessels to return - much more quickly.
"I would anticipate by Tuesday at the latest that we will see vessels making their way back into port," Mr Maura told Tribune Business. "If that happens, we'll hope in a best case scenario to see our first ships around Thursday.'
The NCP chief executive had last week warned that Irma, which was then predicted to travel up Florida's eastern coast, could cause "significant supply chain disruption" with no freight vessels arriving at Nassau until possibly the end of this week.
"It will have a pretty significant impact on our supply chain," Mr Maura said then. "I do not believe it will put us out of business for any extended period of time, but I expect we will experience significant supply chain disruption next week."
While that forecast has been subject to revision, he yesterday predicted that reconstruction demand in Florida and Texas post-Irma and Harvey could result in reduced building materials supply being available to the Bahamas, which would push up prices.
"I think we're still challenged by that demand," Mr Maura said, "because there is damage being caused in the States by Irma. The demand for rebuilding and reconstruction supplies is something that will cause the price of those supplies to increase into next year - for as long as it takes for the US to rebuild. That is a concern."
Tribune Business reported on these fears last week, which were backed my major building supplies retailers and wholesalers.
Meanwhile, speaking as the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) chairman, Mr Maura said Inagua, Ragged Island and Acklins' Salina Point settlement appeared to be the locations hardest hit by Irma so far.
"Wherever Irma made landfall as it made its way through the Bahamas there was extensive damage," he said. "Wherever we have coastal roads that are close to or at sea level, those roads were severely damaged by sea water and the surge.
"As we look to address or repair infrastructure, we need to try our best to stay away from the coast and take roads inland where possible. Storms eat up those coastal roads."
Mr Maura suggested that the Bahamas also needed to look at designing coastal buildings "that allow the water to go under the buildings, rather than through them".
He added: "As Irma moves north we must monitor Hurricane Jose. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne came up through the Leeward Islands and moved out into the Atlantic, where it did a u-turn and came back and hit Abaco, Grand Bahama and made landfall in West Palm Beach."