Friday, September 5, 2008

Series Of Storms Hinders Business in Caribbean

At his terminal on the Miami River, Munir Mourra is surrounded by containers, many of which can't be shipped now.


Haiti's third largest city, Gonaives, is under water and so is its port, putting all shipments to this major commercial hub on hold.

''There's no way to send a shipment right now,'' said Munir Mourra, a longtime exporter to Haiti. ``The flooding has cut off the city from the terminal where you actually unload the goods.''

With storm after storm barreling through the Caribbean in this unusually active hurricane season, Mourra and others who work in the region's shipping industry are coping with hardship and loss.

The series of hurricanes is forcing shippers to reroute their cargo through the islands while waiting for each tempest to pass. Delivery of rice, clothes and other essential goods is put on hold.

''We haven't seen this activity in a long time,'' said Richard Dubin, president of Caribbean Ship Services in Miami. The ship agency sends food, construction materials and other supplies to Haiti, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas.

Dubin said the storms are delaying his shipments -- evidenced most recently at Cap-Haitien, a main port city in northern Haiti.

''We have a boat now discharging, but we had to wait a few days to go in,'' said Dubin. Hurricane Hanna, which killed dozens and triggered landslides, was the culprit.

As storms get within 48 to 72 hours of arrival, the U.S. Coast Guard requires all cargo ships weighing more than 500 gross tons to leave the port for safety.

''It's a riskier situation to have them in port tied up,'' said Coast Guard Lt. Mario Teixeira. ``Our priority is to ensure the safety of everyone there.''

For shippers that mandate means burning more fuel.

Haiti is a small but important trading partner for South Florida. This region's trade with the Bahamas accounted for 40 percent of all U.S. trade with the country and 65 percent of commerce with Haiti in 2007.

If Haiti has suffered the brunt of this year's storm season so far, Jamaica has been relatively lucky. Still, businesses are feeling ripple effects -- chiefly floods.

When Hurricane Gustav flooded roads in Kingston, Grace Foods, a food manufacturer and distributor, encountered some snags.

''We had problems getting stock in time to ship out,'' said Derrick Reckord, general manager of Grace, which sells juices, spices, sauces and porridges to U.S. supermarkets and distributes food throughout the Caribbean and South America.

Keeping the storms in mind, Grace's distributors increased the supply of inventory from six weeks to eight to 12 weeks.

Reckord figures the disruption caused a loss of about $500,000 in sales.

The storms often mean a waiting game for shippers.

Mourra, the longtime shipper, said he couldn't reroute his cargo to St. Marc, Gonaives' nearest commercial hub, because all his equipment is stored at the Gonaives facility. Besides, port employees wouldn't be able to readily leave the city because of the floods.

Mourra estimated his loss at ''hundreds of thousands'' of dollars.

''Until that water recedes and cleanup starts, everything is in a stand still,'' Mourra said. ``Everything is sitting there, but your expenses remain the same.''

Source: Miami Herald

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