By Paul Scott Abbott, AJOT
A truckers’ strike which led to the blockage of port roadways in Puerto Rico ended last week after three days. Officials of ocean carriers serving the island commonwealth are hopeful that further disruptions will be averted.
“Many of the truckers’ issues were certainly valid, and we’re happy the truckers and the government agreed to sit down and work it out,” said Fred Schloth, assistant vice president of marketing services for Jacksonville, FL-based Sea Star Line LLCl. “We’re happy to see they are working out their differences.”
On July 28 Schloth reported that port gates were clear and operations were back to a “normal state” after truckers had stopped a protest that brought truck traffic at the Port of San Juan to a standstill from July 20 at 4 a.m. through July 22).
Mark Miller, director of corporate communications for Jacksonville-based Crowley Liner Services, reported, “The situation was resolved, at least temporarily,” over the weekend of July 23-24. Monday, July 25, was a holiday in Puerto Rico, Constitution Day.
“As far as I know, it’s been business as usual ever since,” Miller said, adding that there have been no reports of further problems.
Crowley and Sea Star are joined by Horizon Lines and Trailer Bridge Inc. in dominating US mainland maritime trade with Puerto Rico with services via Jacksonville.
Alberto Cabrera, manager of Latin American marketing and trade development for the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT), said, “As far as the Jacksonville comminity and the Jacksonville Port Authority, the impact was very minimal.”
Some 70% of all US mainland maritime trade with Puerto Rico moves through JAXPORT facilities, and Jacksonville’s trade volume with the island commonwealth continues to grow at a pace of about three percent per year, according to Cabrera.
The main impact of the three-day strike, Cabrera said, was, “a little delay on some empty equipment coming back” to Jacksonville for reloading.
“I just feel sorry for the people in Puerto Rico, y’know,” Cabrera added.
The strike’s widest impact apparently was felt at gas stations throughout the island, as, without deliveries, most stations ran out of fuel by the Friday preceding the holiday weekend. National Guard troops and police escorted some tank trucks to a few gas stations, accommodating a handful of deliveries.
Officials of Trailer Bridge and Horizon Lines were not immediately available for comment. However, a service announcement to Horizon Lines customers stated, “The major issue which caused discussions to break off concerns rates where truckers are demanding an increase in cargo rates to make up for the hikes in fuel prices and toll fares.”
The Horizon announcement added that port entrances were closed and that major access roads to port locations were blocked off as a result of the protest.
Crowley’s Miller said while vessel and terminal operations, “continued as they normally would on any other given day,” during the three days of the strike, the lack of truck activity in and out of terminal areas meant that some customers seeking delivery of inbound goods, as well as those trying to get cargo to the Port of San Juan for outbound shipment, were unable to achieve their objectives.
“Thankfully, it was short-lived, and we can get back to business as usual,” Miller said.
The Puerto Rico Public Service Commission agreed to hold hearings within 30 days to discuss truck drivers’ demands, which include an increase of some 30% in government-set delivery payments. Goc. Anibal Acevedo Vila told trucker representatives that he would not accede to demands for an immediate pay increase. He said the matter requires further study.