by Jonathan Thompson
On Wednesday, March 17th, I accompanied WFP Shipping Port Captain Niels Olsen to the city of Jacmel in southern Haiti. We flew down on an UNHAS chartered Cessna Caravan and arrived at the tiny airstrip on the outskirts of town. We went directly to Jacmel Port to meet up with WFP Logistics Officers Kim Claveau and Karim Kaouache to observe the first ever discharge of containers at the port.
Jacmel is an incredibly beautiful city with architecture dating back to the 1700's. Tragically, parts of the city were devastated by the recent earthquake and many people lost their lives. However, the port area sustained light damage and was still able to receive cargo. After pulling through the main gate we could see the US-flagged EOT SPAR, Captained by Louis Moglia, picking its way through the shallows of the bay. After a few challenges (the last soundings of the bay were taken over 60 years ago) the EOT SPAR prevailed against a stiff wind and moored successfully against the undersized pier.
As soon as the vessel docked, unloading commenced. The first task was to offload the ship's forklift as the port was without handling equipment. Once the machine was operational and the containers started hitting the dock they were immediately picked up and shifted to the fenced holding area. The speed was incredible and the ship's crew and stevedores worked at a break neck pace to offload as much as possible before night set in.
The following day, after a good night's rest we returned to the port where the unloading had already started. The crew invited us in for breakfast and then it was back outside to observe as the containers, loaded with 50kg sacks of rice, continued to be unloaded. Total tonnage being discharged was 2,000 tonnes. At the same time we were discharging our cargo a smaller liner was offloading pallets of flour that were being loaded directly into WFP and Logistics Cluster trucks. The pier held up under the strain and the cargo was fully discharged by mid-day.
The importance of Jacmel as a viable access route to Haiti's southern coast cannot be overstated. With the approach of the rainy season there is a fear that damaged roads that connect Port-au-Prince with the south may soon become impassable and that food shipments into the area could face significant delays. With the first containerized delivery to Jacmel port, WFP Shipping has once again brought life to a damaged port and a struggling community.