Shipping companies assessing cost damage after bridge mishaps
By Claudio Mendonça
Shipping company officials say business is recovering from two vessel collisions with the 77-year-old Fifth Street bridge that closed the Miami River to marine traffic.
The accidents, July 15 and Aug. 4, initially interrupted the flow of cargo. Now, vehicular traffic is expected to be detoured for nearly 90 days while temporary repairs are made to the drawbridge.
Eddie Rodriguez, systems manager of Antillean Marine Shipping Corp., said his company is assessing damages from the river closures. As of this week, Mr. Rodriguez said, Antillean estimates losses at nearly $2 million.
An Antillean vessel was involved in one of the collisions, striking the south span of the bridge.
The company was bringing apparel items from Haiti and the Dominican Republic on a 300-foot-long, 45-foot-wide vessel. The collision and subsequent closure of the waterway forced the company to hire truckers to take merchandise to the Port of Miami and Port Everglades in Broward County.
"We had a lot of trucking costs involved," said Mr. Rodriguez.
Under the current roadwork schedule, the bridge is to be replaced by 2012. The recent closures are fueling talk of speeding up the schedule.
Wes Thompson, a boarding agent for Pioneer Shipping, said his company was not able to operate from Miami while the river was closed and had to go to Jacksonville.
"We are still trying to catch up from losses," said Mr. Thompson. He said his company ships merchandise twice a week to Nassau, Bahamas. "Because our customers needed products right away, we had to send it by another liner, Seaboard Marine."
At Betty K Agencies USA, another shipping company affected, president Bruce Brown is estimating losses of perishable goods such as vegetables and fruits at $50,000.
"The Betty K was loading that evening to go to Nassau, Bahamas, and we were scheduled to finish at 9:30. Our 200-foot Betty K VI ended up staying for five days," said Mr. Brown.
Munir Mourra, president of River Terminal Services, said losses amounted to $20,000 for his company and vessel operators.
Mr. Rodriguez said one idea for replacing the bridge is to construct a new Fifth Street bridge before rebuilding the 12th Avenue span. Existing plans call for the 12th Avenue project to start in September 2006. "It is more important to start the Fifth Street bridge first," said Mr.Rodriguez. "It has become more dangerous to navigate."
Barry Dragon, US Coast Guard project officer, said some bridge spans will be removed, increasing the area of passage.
Drivers crossing the river in the area near downtown Miami will have to choose other routes, said Brian Rick, Florida Department of Transportation spokesman. He suggested that commuters take Northwest 12th Avenue bridge or the Southwest First Street bridge.