Puerto Rico’s supply chain backlog shows signs of easing

The Puerto Rico supply chain that had been suffering serious logistical issues late last week showed some positive signs of improvement over the weekend as many cargo, storage yard and distribution companies kept their doors open in order to try and alleviate the backlog of emergency supplies like food, medicine, water and construction materials at San Juan’s port.

The shipping companies: Trailer Bridge and Crowley

A steady flow of trucks started arriving at Trailer Bridge’s operations early Saturday morning to pick up containers and bring them to distributors, stores and other clients in Puerto Rico.

However, the cycle and flow of the equipment was becoming a concern. The receiving of empty containers after the full containers are picked up and deliveries are made, has been very slow.

“If we don’t start shipping empties back next week, we won’t be able to pick up cargo from the States and bring the island more goods,” said Jacob Wegrzyn, vice president and general manager of Trailer Bridge Puerto Rico. The last time Trailer Bridge shipped out empty containers was Friday with 160 empties, which is less than normal.

“We need our customers to pick up their containers, and get the empty containers back to us so we can get them back to the States so we can keep the supply chain moving.”

At Crowley, another major shipping company that operates out of the San Juan port, there were approximately 3,500 full containers in its yard, which is still over the normal capacity of 3,200 containers, but there are signs of improvement.

“Flow is slowly picking up,” said Jose “Pache” Ayala, vice president of Crowley Puerto Rico Services.

One hundred percent of the FEMA cargo had been picked, but only 20 percent of the commercial loads have been sent out — which is still too slow according to Ayala.

Distributor: Plaza Provision

Plaza Provision, a 110-year-old food distribution company that sells to club stores and supermarkets on the island — including Sam’s Club, Costco and Wal-Mart — is also facing supply chain issues.

Robert Cimino, CEO of Plaza Provision, says things have been getting better day by day, but almost two weeks after the storm the company still can’t depend on scheduled fuel deliveries necessary to keep the generators powering the business operations and warehouse.

The family owned business in Guaynabo, which is about five miles from the convention center in San Juan — the temporary headquarters for the government’s operations and relief efforts — is also dealing with not being able to connect with some of its employees due the majority of the communications systems being down on most of the island.

“We have 500 employees, of which 10 we have not heard from yet,” said Tere Bolivar, director of strategic projects at Plaza Provision. “We’re very concerned about their safety.”

Bolivar, who is also on an executive committee for Puerto Rico’s disaster relief fund, has been working with the Center for a New Economy to try get the relief supplies to areas of Puerto Rico that are harder to reach logistically — on Sunday, a helicopter full of goods took off from Muniz Air National Guard Base and delivered goods to the island of Vieques.

Ninety-five percent of Puerto Rico still remains without power, and only 17 percent of the U.S. territory has cellular service, according to the most recent Department of Energy and FCC reports.

Lufthansa

A large Lufthansa cargo plane that had departed from Frankfurt, Germany, touched down at the Aguadilla airport at close to 7 a.m. ET on Sunday carrying 80 tons of drinking water, apparel, food and hygienic supplies for the airline’s nearly 400 employees who live in the northwest area of Puerto Rico.

“Our employees have faced an extremely difficult time,” said Pat Foley, CEO of Lufthansa Technik Puerto Rico.

But despite their own personal challenges, when Foley arrived at the gates of the airport on the Friday morning after the hurricane, he saw about 100 employees waiting to get into the facility to try and help re-establish operations.

Lufthansa Group began organizing the relief flight after Foley was able to connect with the Frankfurt office via satellite phone. “What we saw with our people is that they needed us,” he said. Lufthansa Group listened to what Foley was seeing and hearing on the ground and quickly acted to ensure the employees in the region still suffering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Maria received the necessary supplies they needed.

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