Islands across the Caribbean are continuing to struggle following the unprecedented levels of damage wreaked by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and most recently Maria which entirely devastated the infrastructure of the US territory of Puerto Rico. Much has been made of the slow Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) speed of response to the situation in Puerto Rico by comparison to the response to Hurricanes Harvey across Texas and Irma across Florida but the pace is now picking up. Even so, the majority of the island’s 3.4 million people are without power, communications, gas or drinking water and is likely to remain so for quite some time.
Against this background, many are desperate to leave but with limited flights and no suitable US flag vessel capability capable of moving thousands of people, it has fallen to the goodwill of foreign flagged cruise lines to make capacity available. One such vessel is Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s (RCL) Adventure of the Seas which last week undertook a humanitarian mission to evacuate almost 4,000 people from Puerto Rico. The lead picture above shows the line-up to evacuate in San Juan, the major port and capital city of Puerto Rico. Evacuees were not charged for their passage and food and entertainment were provided free – the exception being alcohol which was sold at a discount.
Adventure of the Seas also made humanitarian calls in the US Virgin Islands to drop off urgently needed supplies before heading to Fort Lauderdale where she arrived on October 3. In addition, RCL has made it’s travel network available to coordinate onward travel with airlines since as US citizens, Puerto Ricans can readily relocate to the US mainland. As a consequence of this freedom to travel the population of Puerto Rico dropped by more than 8% in the last seven years, the largest percentage drop of any US state or territory with nearly one-third of those born in Puerto Rico now living on the US mainland. This was, at least in part, why Puerto Rico filed for the biggest bankruptcy in US municipal history earlier this year with a $72 billion debt burden and near-insolvent public health and pension systems.
The Carnival Group, too, has utilized 11 ships to deliver much needed supplies during regular cruises while Norwegian Cruise Line is working with the group “All Hands Volunteers” to rebuild schools and infrastructure. It is also donating $600,000 to rebuilding efforts and will match up to $1.25 million in donations to “All Hands Volunteers” and “Happy Heart Fund” relief efforts.
The response to the devastation across the Caribbean has served to further light a fire under the Merchant Marine Act in 1920 (Jones Act) debate. Congress passed the Jones Act in 1920 after World War I amidst concern that the U.S. shipping industry was too weak to survive following the loss of hundreds of ships. However, to this day, vested interests have managed to hang on to the protection from competition that the Act provides to the U.S. Merchant Marine. Puerto Rican and Hawaiian officials have long campaigned against the law on the grounds that it makes their food and other imports far more expensive than on the mainland. Each year for the past ten years, Senator John McCain has introduced a bill to repeal the Act but to no avail.
Ship of the Week contributed by Capt. Stephen Brown, West Pacific Marine Ltd.