Business has slowed down and not picked up on Miami River since summer, maritime businesses say
By Shearon Roberts
Marine business along the Miami River has slowed since the summer months, a trend not helped by a spate of tropical storms that has hindered freight shipping to Caribbean islands.
Meanwhile, other marine industry companies have seen expansion setbacks as they battle the current tax code and work around bridge construction and strains from the weak economy.
"Things have slowed down, business has not picked up and things have not turned around on the river," said Richard Dubin, vice president of Haiti Shipping Lines.
Four storms — Fay, Gustav, Hannah and Ike — hit the islands this summer, damaging the Haitian ports used by Miami River shipping lines.
The summer storms also hit Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas, interrupting service for a few weeks, said Nelly Yunta, general manager of freight services to the Dominican Republic and Haiti for Crowley Liner Services.
"Haiti suffered the worst from all four storms, back to back, from north to south," said Munir Mourra, owner of River Terminal Services. "We pretty much ship to the town of Gonaives, and since the storms hit the port, we have not been able to ship as yet."
The company was finally able to send two ships recently to the Port of Miragoane, another port on the south side of the island, Mr. Mourra said. However, some of the towns are still inaccessible because of debris blocking roads, while the government lacks the funds to get port administration back to work and fully operational, he said.
"Our customers cannot wait for us to resume shipping because they want to send goods to their family," Mr. Mourra said.
Mr. Dubin said before the summer storms hit, the company sent four shipments a week to the port at Cap Haitien, the second largest city after the capital, Port-au-Prince. Those shipments have dropped to twice a month, he said.
"The storms upset schedules, there were a lot of delays with the flow of merchandise and roads are out," Mr. Dubin said. "The cost of overhead stays the same while our income goes down."
This has led many of the shipping lines along the Miami River to look elsewhere to keep business afloat while Haiti, a major destination, remains unreliable.
"When things first started toughening earlier this year with clearing goods in Haiti, we started to diversify ourselves in terms of having other vessels operating outside of Haiti and that has helped us partially," Mr. Mourra said.
The company's vessels now operate in Dominica and in Martinique, Mr. Mourra said.
The other shipping lines also said they have begun services directly to other islands from the river or are leasing their vessels for use at other island ports.
Other shipping lines have gone out of business.
"A shipping tenant closed down in June," said Orin Black, vice president of Marilyn Properties, which leases terminal space. "They couldn't make it with all the problems shipping to Haiti."
Marilyn Properties is renovating the abandoned terminal space now, Mr. Black said, but he says the weak economy has made it hard for the new operations to start up and grow on the river.
Construction on the 12th Avenue bridge and closure of the Fifth Street bridge have made advertising more difficult as potential tenants and clients have less access to the property, Mr. Black said.
"It's a problem trying to get people to come to our property," Mr. Black said.
"The Fifth Street bridge is completely removed and they're replacing it. People coming across the Second Avenue bridge get lost. And the construction has reduced the amount of traffic coming over the 12th Avenue bridge," he said.