Relief supplies bound for Puerto Rico from Eddystone terminal

This barge at Penn Terminals in Eddystone will be loaded with shipping containers filled with food and water bound for Puerto Rico.

Crews of stevedores are working around the clock at Penn Terminals in Eddystone, loading prepackaged food and water into metal containers that will sail Sunday on a barge, the Columbia Charleston, to Puerto Rico to help some of those in need after Hurricane Maria’s devastation.

Eighty-six tractor-trailers filled with bottled water and another 86 containing ready-to-eat meals, like those the U.S. military uses in combat, began arriving Thursday at the privately owned Penn Terminals on the Delaware River near I-95.

Crowley Maritime Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., usually operates nine barges on its Puerto Rico service between Philadelphia and other East Coast ports. “We’ve added an additional six,” Crowley spokesman David DeCamp said.

A second barge, the Fortaleza, will leave Petty’s Island in Pennsauken on Monday with 150 container loads of relief supplies, Crowley said. It will be a seven-day voyage to the Port of San Juan.

The relief effort is led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The food and water trucked to Penn Terminals came from government warehouses in Alabama, Michael Bresnahan, FEMA team leader in Eddystone, said Friday.

Supplies included cereal, milk, breakfast bars, raisins, plus the ready-to-eat meals in lightweight packaging. “It’s stuff that does not need refrigeration and has a very long shelf life,” said Penn Terminals CEO John Brennan.

Despite reports that much-needed supplies have been sitting idle in the San Juan terminal, Crowley says the FEMA relief aid “is going out quickly.”

“FEMA and our logistics are working together, and they have truckers lined up,” DeCamp said. “So they are turning quickly out of the terminal. In our warehouse, we’ve cleared almost all the FEMA loads.”

But on the commercial side, he said, trucking companies, distribution centers, supermarkets, and retailers were all damaged by the hurricane, and the supply chain was disrupted.  “While trucks are available, there’s a lack of trucking employees and diesel to move the loads,” he said.

On Friday, stevedores at Penn Terminals were loading the water and food into as many as 180 40-foot containers that will be put on the barge, which will then be pulled by a tugboat to San Juan.

Since the Coast Guard reopened the Port of San Juan on Sept. 23, Crowley Maritime has handled about 4,100 relief loads at its terminal there.  The company has bookings for more than 3,100 container loads of government relief cargo to be delivered to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, and St. Croix.

“We have 1,000 more ready to leave Jacksonville alone,” DeCamp said.

Steven Trautz loads supplies into a shipping container headed for Puerto Rico from Penn Terminals.