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Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere but after decades of poor governance, it was starting to pull itself out from underneath that dubious title. The USA had a number of interests in the country; it was a major source of mass migration, had many areas of weak governance that were a haven for drugs transhipment activities and former President Bill Clinton had only recently been appointed UN Special Envoy to the country.

US forces had also intervened militarily a number of times, most recently in 2004 in Operation Restore/Uphold Democracy.


The USA, therefore, would not stand idly by when on the 12th of January 2010 at 21:53:10 UTC a magnitude 7 earthquake struck 16 miles west of Port au Prince.

230,000 people died, 197,000 were injured and over 1.2 million were displaced. 60% of the government infrastructure was destroyed and over 100,000 homes were destroyed with many more damaged beyond repair.

Within hours of the earthquake, President René Preval despatched several of his ministers, on motorcycles, to the home of the US Ambassador to Haiti with a request for emergency aid. Although the response was of an international nature, it was still dominated by the US, primarily USAID and the DoD.

The day after the earthquake an advance party arrived from the Department of Defense to establish the kind of support that could be provided. The necessary authorisations and administrative processes were enabled and commanding the new Joint Task Force – Haiti (JTF-H), was Lt General PK Keen.

Operation Unified Response – The Military Logistics Response

The scope of the international humanitarian response to the earthquake would require a document ten times the size of this one so instead of looking at strategic communications, command and control, the civil-military interface, information management and dissemination, medical responses,  and rubble management, instead, I am going to look at two elements;

  • Air Operations and Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport
  • Over the Shore Logistics

The Haiti earthquake is a rich source of study for anyone interested in the application of military capabilities in disaster response but as can be seen, often there is no substitute, but equally often, they are not always best suited.

Air Operations and the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport

Within a couple of days, US Navy P-3 and USAF Global Hawks were providing extremely detailed imagery. U-2 and Predators also added to the imagery and video available to assess the situation. Working in conjunction with Google and other satellite imagery providers, Haiti was within a few days, one of the most imaged places on Earth.

Whilst the runway was a very good 3,000m, other facilities were less well provisioned.

It was clear that any rapid response would need an airport, the earthquake had destroyed the airport control tower and damaged a number of buildings, although the runway was relatively unaffected. All communications equipment was housed in the control tower and airport lighting was inoperable due to the lack of power.

The first air traffic control was actually carried out by personnel on the US Coastguard Cutter Forward.

She coordinated the first reconnaissance overflights of the airport and surrounding areas.

From the air, it was difficult to assess the state of the runway and so the first order of business was to obtain that information.

The Joint Task Force – Port Opening was to;

safely run aerial port operations and maximize humanitarian assistance throughput

JTF-PO tasked the 1st Special Operations Wing’s Joint Special Operations Air Component quickly tasked 15th Special Operations Squadron and 720th Special Tactics Group with the requirement to establish the state of airport facilities and begin to coordinate the expected significant uplift in aircraft arrivals.

By this point, first responders were arriving, search and rescue teams from Iceland, Cuba and Peru being the first. 26 hours after the earthquake, two MC-130H’s from the 15th arrived at the airport, flying from Hurlburt Field in Florida.

Within 30 minutes of arriving the combat air controllers assumed command of air movements, setting up shop in the open air using a couple of folding tables. Aircraft were guided to their parking spots using motorcycles.

Although the USAF had full authority from the Haitian Prime Minister to assume airspace control it did create some tension with the civilian responder community.

The day after, additional personnel and equipment arrived and the 817th Contingency Response Group was formed, from the 621st Contingency Response Wing of the USAF, a unit specifically tasked with opening and operating airfields for Air Mobility Command.

On the 14th, a Joint Assessment Team (JAT) arrived.

They determined that international relief flights were landing faster than they could be unloaded, ramp space was severely limited and getting supplies out of the airport perimeter was being hampered by the lack of suitable equipment.

A management centre was established at Tyndall Air Base in Florida called the Haiti Flight Operations Control Center (HFOCC) to ensure the only aircraft with landing slots entered Haitian airspace. Evacuating civilian personnel, securing the airport and establishing expeditionary life support for deployed personnel were also priority tasks.

Prior to the earthquake, the airport was handling 12-15 flights per day, daylight operation only. 3 days after, it was operating at over 60 flights per day, 24×7, and this increased over the following days to movement intensity almost equalling that of the Berlin Airlift, all from a single runway.

The runway did not have a parallel taxiway and the main ramp area had a single entry and exit point, creating challenges for free-flowing traffic. The ramp itself only had parking locations for 2 large aircraft and 6 smaller ones.

The HFOCC operated in conjunction with the Government of Haiti, World Food Programme and United Nations to ensure the correct balance between cargo and personnel aircraft. A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization that detailed administrative procedures for flights into Port au Prince.

After the initial telephone access system to HFOCC started to show the strain, a web-based system was quickly implemented and this improved matters considerably, particularly in transparency issues to ensure no accusations of priority could be levelled. There were complaints that military flights were being prioritised and the usual media commentators with zero understanding of air logistics took to the air to criticise the USAF.

It was all completely unwarranted.

Air despatch was used on a number of occasions, on the 18th of January for example, a C-17 from the 437th Airlift Wing from Charleston Air Force base airdropped 14,000 MRE’s and 16,000 Litres of bottled water on a seven-hour round trip.


Security on the drop zone was paramount and this required additional personnel to ensure safety.

Airmen from U.S. Southern Command’s air component, Air Force South, conducted an airdrop mission Jan. 18 in an effort to provide an alternate distribution point for relief supplies to Haitian earthquake victims. The mission was planned and executed by Airmen at Headquarters Air Mobility Command, 18th Air Force and the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center.

The C-17 Globemaster III, crewed by Airmen from the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston AFB, S.C., departed Pope AFB, N.C., and delivered 14,000 Meals Ready-to-Eat, or MREs, and 14,000 quarts of water in the 7-hour round-trip mission to Haiti. To ensure the safety of the Haitian people, service members with Joint Task Force-Haiti secured an area in which to airdrop the supplies. Once on the ground, supplies were distributed by JTF-Haiti, USAID and other relief personnel.

One of the greatest challenges in this relief operation has been lack of infrastructure, which has significantly slowed the delivery of supplies and workers to the greatest points of need in Haiti. Airdrop is one of many options the international community is using in order to create alternate distribution points that will enable aid to reach the people more quickly.

The aircraft handling capacity was not necessarily the bottleneck, the issue is not with landing and taking off, but landing, unloading and taking off. Mechanical handling equipment, pallet stillages and equipment operators were at a premium.

Additional forklift trucks were flown in, and lighting and generators to enable 24×7 operations, also.

In the USA, all manner of units and locations contributed, air tanking played a critical role and various ISR aircraft continued to operate to support imagery and other data for responders.

Between the Special Forces combat controllers, personnel at HFOCC and the personnel of the 817th Contingency Response Group, small miracles were achieved.

The chart below shows the number of missions per aircraft type;

A total of 14,098 tonnes of supplies were offloaded and 15,495 passengers loaded.

On the 19th of February, civilian control of the airport was returned.

Although the focus was on Port au Prince, additional capacity was established at airports in the Dominican Republic and a Canadian team opened the 1,000m Jacmel airstrip in southern Haiti which provided an invaluable divert location for smaller aircraft.

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Personnel from 2 Air Movements Squadron, 8 Air Communications and Control Squadron and 8 Air Maintenance Squadron contributed to the air component of Operation HESTIA.

The image below shows Captain Suzan Carignan and Captain Rod Zeaton controlling air traffic in the improvised tower at Jacmel Airport.

Trees at the runway edge meant that initially, only C-130’s could access the runway, but after work from combat engineers, the first C-17 landed on the 20th of February. Lighting and other enhancements expanded the capacity of the airfield considerably, up to approximately 160 aircraft movements per day at the peak.

Over the Shore Logistics at Port au Prince

Port au Prince was the main port for Haiti, handling an average of 230 TEU’s per day in 2009 between the North and South Piers, about 95% of the nation’s total. The other ports of Saint marc, Petit Goave, Miragoane, Les Cayes and Jacmel were much less capable, especially for container handling.

The image below shows the harbour at Port au Prince in better times.


The north pier was used for container handling and the longer south pier, anything else, mostly breakbulk cargo and personnel.

Despite the obvious utility of air operations for rapid response and time-sensitive materials, it was obvious that overland from the Dominican Republic and more directly over the beach or through the existing ports would have to be the main means by which the significant volume of relief supplies would be delivered.

Time-sensitive by air, volume by sea.

Not in great shape before, the port facility was particularly hard hit and in the first few days a number of US agencies conducted photo recce missions to try and determine the extent of the damage.

First Looks

On the same day as the earthquake, the US Ready Duty Amphibious Ready Group including USS Bataan, USS Carter Hall and USS Fort McHenry, were placed on 48 hours notice to move but the first assets to arrive were airborne.

First was a US Navy P-3 Orion on 12th January.


The US Coastguard the day after.


And on the 13th, a USAF OC-135 aircraft.


These initial images confirmed that the port infrastructure had suffered significant damage.

Port au Prince Haiti Before and After

The Washington gantry crane and one of the Gottwald harbour cranes were in the water and the quays either submerged or significantly weakened by liquefaction induced lateral spreading.

The North Pier (with the gantry crane) was used for container traffic and the South pier, for breakbulk cargo.

Port-au-Prince Haiti port damage 01

Although not in the port, electrical distribution equipment was also damaged or destroyed so no power would be available for port operations, lighting for example.

Port-au-Prince Haiti port damage 02

Port-au-Prince Haiti port damage 03

Not only was port infrastructure destroyed but there were also several hazards to navigation, reefer containers with their foam insulation, for example, presented a dangerous floating hazard.


Two vessels moored in the port, the Stella Maris and Michael J, were both damaged.

If the port was going to play any role in the relief effort, a more comprehensive survey was needed.

First on the scene to examine the harbour facilities at Port au Prince were the US Navy and US Coastguard.

Already in the area, USS Higgins, an Arleigh Burke destroyer, was diverted to Haiti and she arrived on the 14th  of January as the first U.S. Navy ship on-scene. The US Coastguard Cutter Fury, also arrived soon after, joining the USGC Cutter Forward that was by then providing air traffic control for the airport.

By the end of the 14th, US Coastguard vessels off Port au Prince included the Fury, Mohawk Fury and Tahoma.

The USGC Cutter Valiant had also determined that Cape Haitien could be used for barges or ships.

On the 17th of January, the USCG Cutter Oak arrived and after dropping off relief supplies at the South pier embarked on her main task of establishing safe navigation; in the next three days the Oak, her crew and local harbour pilot surveyed the port and repaired a number of buoys whilst installing a handful of news ones.

Because of the relatively unknown status of the port and distance to other suitable ports, the initial logistics concept evolved to one that was centred on a Joint Logistics Over the Shore (JLOTS) model.

The UN Food Cluster estimated that a total of 140,000 tonnes of food and 160 tonnes of high energy biscuits would be needed, the latter for places where fuel for cooking was unavailable.

By Saturday the 16th of January, US forces were operating to four basic principles;

  • Command and control of supplies flowing into the logistics hub at Guantanamo Bay
  • Expanding the USNS Comfort (hospital ship) capacities in readiness for deployment
  • Port clearance at Port au Prince
  • Water and MRE’s inflows via any routes possible

On the 17th of January, the USCG Cutter Oak arrived and after dropping off relief supplies at the South pier embarked on her main task of establishing safe navigation; in the next three days the Oak, her crew and local harbour pilot surveyed the port and repaired a number of buoys whilst installing a handful of news ones.

US Coast Guard Cutter Oak - Haiti

Leading the Coast Guard response was the 11 person Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit (MTSRU), a rapid response unit whose role is to restore cargo traffic to damaged ports or those suffering from some other incident. Aboard the cutter was also a command and control cell, responsible for coordinating port movements in conjunction with what was left of the Port au Prince Port Authority.

Also on the 17th of January, the Dutch support ship HNLMS Pelikaan arrived and dropped off relief supplies.

Vlootschouw voor Curacao

HNLMS Pelikaan Video

The US Naval Oceanographic Office sent a Northrop Grumman Compact Hydrographic Airborne Rapid Total Survey (CHARTS) team from Nicaragua for five days to collect data about the port.

CHARTS is an interesting system that uses a SHOALS topography/bathymetric LiDAR, DuncanTech small format RGB camera and a CASI-1500 hyperspectral sensor on Beechcraft King Air 200 turboprop aircraft. Post-processing took place less than 24 hours after it was collected which allowed the team to provide soundings, contours, digital elevation models, large scale charts, and orthorectified image mosaics to Google for inclusion in their mapping products which were also being augmented with GeoEye high-resolution satellite imagery.


Poor water clarity meant the LIDAR did not produce a great deal of useable imagery the other sensors provided invaluable data and CHARTS was redeployed to other ports being used for the logistic response effort.


Monday the 18th was a key date because it marked the arrival of a number of specialist survey capabilities.

The most up to date survey of the area were 30 years old and given the likely underwater debris as a result of the earthquake damage a new survey was the first priority. Not only would it be a possibility that uncharted wreckage could damage ships but earthquakes can change the charted depths so large cargo vessels carrying humanitarian goods running aground would be the last thing needed by the hard-pressed city inhabitants.

Although the US Navy sent the USNS Henson survey ship and a Fleet Survey Team, the first survey team ashore was the US Army 544th Engineer Dive Team 


The team was equipped with a range of survey equipment including a portable side-scan sonar and single beam echo sounder.


They were initially hosted on the USNS Grasp, sister ship of the USNS Grapple, both specialist salvage vessels, but were soon set up on the pier from the 18th

100316-N-5961C-001 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (March 16, 2010) The Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51) is at anchor in the Port-au-Prince harbor as divers work on the cityÕs pier. Divers embarked aboard Grasp and divers from Mobile Diving Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2 are repairing the pier after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Port-au-Prince area Jan. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Spike Call/Released)



The team carried out a number of bottom surveys and investigated the piers and quayside for damage. The damage to the piers was extensive, made worse by the poor original state of repair, the North pier was damaged beyond repair but an 800ft span on the south pier could be repaired in situ. 150 piles required some form of repair between 2 and 8 feet below the waterline and 66 piles required repair above the waterline.

Personnel from USNS Henson then concentrated on surveying the approaches.

Crowley Maritime, a US marine services company on contract to the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), actually chartered a small floatplane to take a survey team from Titan Salvage to Port au Prince on the 18th of January.

The Titan Salvage team concluded that it would be possible to effect a temporary docking structure using a 400ft x 100ft barge and a crawler crane. The day after, the barge 410 was on the way from Texas with an expected arrival time of February the 2nd 2010.

Salvage and Initial Supplies Arrive

The 18th also saw the arrival off Port au Prince of the barge Crimson Clover, loaded with over 100 20ft ISO containers of food. The barge was already inbound to Haiti when the earthquake struck. Because the state of the port was unknown when it arrived, it was ordered to hold.

USAID had by then also contracted with shipping companies to transport 10,700 tonnes of food, approximately 560 containers worth, to Haiti.

The next day, the Crimson Clover was allowed to dock.


Haiti - Crimson Shipping Barge 07

Haiti - Crimson Shipping Barge 06

Haiti - Crimson Shipping Barge 03

Haiti - Crimson Shipping Barge 01

Workers unload supplies Tuesday, Jan. 19, from the Crimson Clover, a cargo vessel owned by Crimson Shippiing Co. out of Mobile. Note: Photo submitted by Crimson Shipping Co

Also on the 19th, the French landing ship Francis Garnier arrived and offloaded supplies at the South Pier.

The initial survey had concluded that whilst the pier was usable to some degree, only a third was accessible and due to a combination of the poor initial state and earthquake, only one truck at a time could drive on it.

The team at the harbour would be joined by Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 2, the Mobile and Diving Salvage Unit 2 and Underwater Construction Team 1.

The Fleet Survey Team (FST) comprised a four-person fly-away team with portable hydrographic gear initially hosted aboard the USS Underwood and then to the USNS Henson. Their main task was to conduct an anchorage survey for the hospital ship USNS Comfort.

When this task was completed they joined the team at the port to carry on with general survey tasks, including installing a number of tide gauges.



In parallel to the survey work the USNS Grapple and members of deployed force including the Mobile and Diving Salvage Unit 2, Underwater Construction Team 1 and 544th Engineer Dive Team started work on clearing the port area and approaches of containers, wrecks and other hazards to navigation with the objective of enabling the port to open for humanitarian traffic.


Although initial briefings stated that USNS Grapple was only of limited capability, that was diametrically opposed to the actual situation. She was an ideal mobile base for the dive teams as she had a decompression chamber (used to treat a Haitian diver) and her tools and equipment allowed the teams to conduct the kinds of salvage tasks that were essential.



Port- Au-Prince, Haiti- Marine Corps 8th Engineer Support Battalion brings in a bulldozer to assist Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two(MDSU-2) in removing submerged container boxes. MDSU-2 is conducting salvage and repair operations in the main seaport of Port-au-Prince, Haiti as part of the humanitarian and disaster relief to Haiti, Operation Unified Response. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Lussier/Released) . MDSU-2 is conducting salvage operations in the main seaport of Port-au-Prince, Haiti as part of the humanitarian and disaster relief to Haiti, Operation Unified Response. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Lussier/Released)

It should also be noted that USNS Grapple stayed the longest.

By the 20th, ten days after the earthquake, supplies had started to arrive overland from the Dominican Republic, the operation at the airport was getting into full swing and helicopters from various US ships were ferrying small quantities of water and medical supplies.

Dutch, French and US Coastguard vessels had offloaded some supplies, and survey and initial port rehabilitation had begun, but the bulk of the food supplies had arrived almost by luck, on the Crimson Clover barge with 100 20ft ISO containers.

Helicopters from the first large US Navy ships, the USS Carl Vinson for example arriving on the 15th, had started to move supplies but volumes were obviously limited, despite the hugely impressive effort. She had offloaded combat aircraft and embarked helicopters, 19 in total, on the way to Haiti.

USS Bataan was activated as the Ready Duty Amphibious Readiness Group, also including USS Fort McHenry and USS Carter Hall. USS Gunston Hall also joined the Bataan ARG/MEU, arriving on 18th January. A total of 48 helicopters were by now in operation.

Moving up a Gear

Food, water, shelter materials, medical supplies, engineering plant, cooking equipment and assorted construction supplies were all waiting to come ashore.

Although responders were utilising the airport, other smaller ports, overland routes, helicopter and airdrops, the main event was still going to have to be from ships to the shore in the Port au Prince area.

This would proceed in two parallel tracks;

  • Getting the marine terminal back into action
  • Using over the beach amphibious capabilities, or JLOTS.

Army members of Joint Task Force – Port Opening (JTF-PO) come from the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC), part of Army Materiel Command. The 832nd Army Transportation Battalion is based in Florida, within 48 hours of the earthquake, they were on their way. Their initial deployment package included stores for two weeks of self-sustainment, trailers, generators, repair equipment, lighting sets, satellite communication equipment, excavators, compactors and heavy-lift forklift trucks.

The package also included specialists in commercial contracting and ten stevedores.

All this was loaded on two Army LCU’s, large RORO vessels that can beach to load and unload. The first arrived on the 20th of January, and the second the day after.

With the arrival of engineer plant used to clear containers, underwater obstructions and clearance of obstacles in the terminal area, an opportunity existed to create RORO ramps within the harbour.

The RORO ramps, although very simple, were of critical importance as it allowed larger landing craft to access the port, three were constructed or improved.


Three landing locations were designated, Red, White and Gold Beach

Haiti LOTS

The red beach was the main terminal (a couple of locations), White Beach near the Varreoux oil terminal (established much later) and Gold Beach nestled between the two.

On the 22nd of January, Crowley Marine unloaded 56 20ft ISO containers of food and water at Ria Haina in the Dominican Republic for transfer overland to Port au Prince.

12 containers were left loaded on the Marcajama.


The Marcajama would then use her own cranes to transfer containers to a smaller vessel operated by G and G Shipping off Port au Prince. The smaller vessel would then land the containers using the newly installed RORO ramp at the harbour in Port au Prince.

On the 24th of January, the French amphibious vessel Siroco arrived off Port au Prince. The image below shows one of her landing craft using the RORO ramp.

French Landing Craft Port-au-Prince 2010-01-25

The  USNS 1st LT Jack Lummus also arrived on the 22nd of January with the first of the JLOTS assets, others would follow over the next few days.

JLOTSis the US terminology for a Navy and Army combined capability to load and unload ships without the use of port facilities. JLOTS has a very wide range of equipment but the key to operations in Haiti were the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS) and a number of landing craft or lighters. It arrived in Haiti between the 22nd and 31st of January on the USNS 1st LT Jack Lummus, USNS PFC Dewayne T Williams, SS Cape May and SS Cornhusker State.

How did it all fit together?

The SS Cape May bought the INLS components to the location and offloaded them, these comprised 3 INLS Causeway Ferries, 3 INLS Warping Tugs, 1 INLS (Roll-On-Roll-Off Discharge Facility (RRDF) and 3 NL Causeway Ferries, 2 Side Loadable Warping Tugs.

SS Cape May 01


Cape May is a fascinating vessel, called a SeaBee Barge Carrier she uses a rising deck and sliding carriage arrangement to stow and launch barges, pontoons or small craft.

SS Cape May 02

SS Cape May 04

SS Cape May 07

SS Cape May 11

SS Cape May 16

SS Cape May 21

SS Cape May 23

SS Cape May 22

1 LSV-1, 5 LCU 2000s, 1 LCM 8 and 2 MFP Utility Boats completed the JLOTS equipment.

Once offloaded the INLS equipment would be used to unload the Lummus and Williams and transfer the containers, stores and vehicles to shore.

INLS Haiti 2010 02

INLS Haiti 2010 01

INLS Causeway Ferry Haiti 2010 01








INLS pontoons were also used to create causeways that allowed landing craft and other INLS pontoons to unload without beaching, White Beach is shown below.

White Beach logistical compound, Haiti.

Another important piece of the JLOTS jigsaw was the USNS Cornhusker State, a dedicated crane ship. She would stand off about 3 miles from shore and transfer containers from one ship to the lighterage

SS Cornhusker State 1


Supplementing the JLOTS equipment were USMC LCAC’s, LARC’s and other landing craft.

Whilst the JLOTS capability was being established and used, survey and salvage operations continued in and around the Port au Prince marine terminal, the USNS Henson starting a multi-beam echo sounder survey on the 23rd for example.

Six Army LCU 2000 vessels arrived on the 25th

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These would prove to be invaluable as they could access the RORO ramp at the Terminal with a large engineering plant or many containers.


On the 26th of January, the south pier was closed due to the discovery of additional cracks. A number of aftershocks and usage contributing to the damage. A secondary survey confirmed the South pier was repairable and the team got to work preparing the damaged piles for repair.

Repairs would need tools and materials to be shipped in and a number of problems were encountered such as the only aggregates available being too large created multiple hose blockages that meant some of the repairs would be made with cement only. Tools also wore out much quicker than anticipated diving conditions were very bad, sewage and oil spills compounding an already difficult task.


Nevertheless, the team got on with it.




Whilst this was happening, Titan Salvage and their contactors were continuing the task of clearing the north pier area of debris and containers.

However impressive the JLOTS system is, it is designed to support an embarked force, not a city of millions in dire need. The logistic jigsaw was incomplete without civilian shipping and a functioning port. Pallets and boxes started to give way to containers, especially as the Army LCU’s and civilian RORO vessels were able to access the port RORO ramps but the north pier was still out of action and the south pier undergoing repairs that would take many weeks.

Titan Salvage and Resolve Marine were on the way to Haiti on the 19th of January. Resolve provided the salvage tug Resolve Pioneer and the 142ft spudded crane barge, RMG-300.


Concrete debris, vehicles, collapsed pilings and Washington and Gottwald cranes were removed in order to allow the Crowley barges to be spudded and commissioned.




Haiti Port Salvage 2

Haiti Port Salvage 1

After an earlier small scale trial, the 820 TEU capacity MV Marcajama container ship sailed into Port au Prince on the 28th of January and because the ship had its own cranes, was able to offload 202 containers directly onto smaller vessels equipped with bow ramps.

The smaller landing craft style ships were chartered from G&G Shipping built by St Johns Shipbuilding in Florida. Able to carry up to 26 TEU in roll on roll off configuration or if stacked, 46 TEU the Cape Express was one of those used throughout the period.

SS Cornhusker State 2



The other commercial landing craft used were the Sea Express II and MV Cristina Express, both used extensively by USAID. Seacor Holdings repaired pipelines between the fuel terminal and harbour that allowed bulk fuel deliveries to be made. From this point on, the use of helicopters greatly decreased. The Crowley Shipper was also able to access Red Beach using an INLS pontoon.

Crowley Shipper Haiti

The Marcajama returned on the 29th of January, not with 12 containers, but 202. Each was offloaded to the lighters and then onto the marine terminal.

On the 30th, sooner than expected and whilst repairs were still underway, the south pier was re-opened for limited traffic, the same day the former Hawaii super ferries MV Alakai and MV Huaka arrived.

Work on debris and container removal continued with Titan Salvage contracting with a number of local companies to provide employment and recycling to be completed.

Haiti Port Salvage 3

Due to the efforts of the port opening team and civilian contractors, the Port au Prince marine terminal was able to land 450 TEU’s per day by the 4th of February, with the INLS causeway at Gold beach being reported as 168 TEU per day.

The WIN Group (owners of the Varreux terminal) contracted with Seacor Marine to install a temporary mooring point and pipework to allow tankers to offload. Fuel was flowing by the 5th of February.

The Barges Arrive

With water, telecoms and electricity at pre-quake levels, the next major phase in the logistics operation was the arrival of the Crowley barges at the marine terminal.

Up to this point, all stores were landed via lighterage, either on containers or on pallets. Although transferring from large vessels to landing craft and RORO vessels near offshore using integral cranes or the Cornhusker State improved matters considerably, containers still had to be ‘double touched’

What was sorely needed was a working pier that would allow large cargo ships to dock and unload directly. The south pier was not going to be ready for some time, the answer was two Crowley barges, already en-route.

USTRANSCOM issued a contract with Crowley Marine for two large spudded barges (410 and Atka) to act as piers for larger ships in place of the damaged or destroyed North and South piers, in a not dissimilar manner to the FIPASS barges used in the Falkland Islands. One barge was intended for the North pier area and another in the South, called APN (Autorite Portuaire Nationale) Blue and Red respectively.

With debris clear, the next task was to drive piles to ensure stability for the barges. The Associate Maritime Salvage crane barge was used to install six 3 feet by 80 feet pilings to serve as anchor points for the 410 and Atka barges.

It was at this point that an unexpected delay hit the operation. The owners of the Gottwald crane at the north pier delayed salvage for an investigation. On the 12th of February, this was resolved, taking the form of a contract for its removal.

The first barge in place was APN Red (410), near the south pier, ready for traffic on the 14th of February.

Crowley Barge Haiti - APN RED

By the 18th of February, all debris had been removed from the north pier, completing the salvage operation and clearing the way for APN Blue (Atka), to be spudded into place.

Also on the 18th, the British arrive!

The UK’s response was mostly carried on the RFA Largs Bay (now HMAS Choules) and Mexeflote were used to transfer the vehicles and supplies to shore in addition to acting as a general-purpose transport capability in support of the wider operation.

Largs Bay unloading Haiti aid

17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, and other members of her embarked force delivered vehicles and buildings materials at Port-au-Prince.

Mexeflote Haiti 05


Mexeflote Haiti 09

After completing the initial deliveries she was tasked by the World Food Programme (WFP) to deliver food to areas that had been cut off by the earthquake, the village of Anse-à-Veau, in Nippes province for example.

Largs Bay unloading Haiti aid 2

The four-day operation at the village delivered 275,000 ready meals, 30 tonnes of rice, six tonnes of beans, more than 200 boxes of corn soya blend, 100-plus boxes of vegetable oil, and 13 bags of salt.

Largs Bay Haiti unloading 1

Largs Bay unloading Haiti aid 3

Largs Bay unloading Haiti aid 4

Largs Bay unloading Haiti aid 5

A LARGS DELIVERY FOR REMOTE COMMUNITY 08-03-2010 After a short transit by sea to the remote town of Anse a Veau (sic) RFA Largs Bay, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps and other members of her Embarked Military Force commence the proccess of unloading some 6 tons of beans, 32 tons of rice and 275,000 packs of Meals ready to Eat (MRE). Carried out in support of the World Food Programme (WFP) this operation has enabled the WFP to get much needed food into a community cut off from the rest of Haiti. Anse a Veau has been isolated ever since a mud slide swept away the only road out of town. RFA Largs Bay, a 16,000 ton Bay Class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) is deployed in support of DfID (Department for International Development)and the World Food Program (WFP) as the United Kingdom's contribution to the humanitarian Aid Relief effort currently giving support to the people of Haiti following Januarys Earthquakes. Please Credit LA(PHOT) Pete Smith / MOD


When APN Blue was ready on the 27th of February, JLOTS was in effect, redundant.

Crowley Barge Haiti - APN BLUE

Because larger ships could dock and unloaded by mobile Manitowoc cranes directly onto trucks the 400 foot by 100 foot flat deck Crowley barges transformed operations, increasing capacity by a factor of two or three and once the second was installed, JLOTS was only used to carry military stores and vehicles.

Each barge was connected to the shore by 300-tonne capacity ramps.

Port-au-Prince, Haiti, showing Crowley barges APN BLUE and APN RED

With some semblance of normality returning, the military presence started to scale down.

Both barges are still there, joined by another at the North pier.

Haiti port


The more you read about the Haiti earthquake response the more you realise what a simply magnificent effort it was, Israeli and Iranian teams working side by side, the air and sea logistics effort (especially by the Coastguard, Military Sealift Command and USN/USMC) and medical assistance were all straight out of the top drawer. Jamaica, Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, South Korea and many more nations sent help.

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary and 17 Port and Maritime Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (those magnificent men and Mexeflote machines) also get an honourable mention.

But equally, lady luck and circumstance had a big part to play and so with the benefit of finest quality hindsight goggles could things have been done any better?

Supply lines were short, there were many adjacent countries that offered support (not least the Dominican Republic) and many of the responders were already in the area. It is often said that the more one practices the better one luck becomes and this was absolutely true for the main body of military forces involved in the response, many having completed large scale exercises that practised many of the capabilities used only the year before.

Despite this, the sheer scale of the response and numbers of participants created many command and control problems as identified by the RAND Analysis of the military response to the earthquake.

The demand for tactical information at a strategic level absorbed a great deal of time for little benefit, the long-handled screwdriver as useless as ever, driving activity from adverse media coverage a common problem.

At its peak, there were 22,000 US military personnel engaged in Joint Task Force Haiti, each one requiring food and water in a food and water constrained environment.

The geography and time of year also ensured that sea conditions were benign, another place and another time may well have completely changed the ability of responders to get so much ashore so quickly.

Information and reconnaissance assets were invaluable but by Day 2, Google had made available high-resolution satellite imagery which would form the basis of a number of innovative mapping and survey applications and arrangements with all responders reporting it as having a very positive impact on the response.

Despite the local GSM infrastructure being damaged the communication tool of choice was Blackberry, being able to integrate civilian communication systems was a key lesson as was the power of web services and SharePoint.

28 hours after the earthquake a small SOCOM team had air operations up and running at the airport, a feat which they received well deserved praise, from a normal 13 flight movements per day they enabled an average of 120 movements per day for three weeks with a peak of 150 movements per day.

The divers at the seaport operated in atrocious water conditions without appropriate protective equipment simply because none was available and the lack of joint training and equipment between the Army and Navy dive teams introduced unnecessary delays. Divers actually took daily doses of antibiotics and were constantly monitored for health problems.

All for the lack of proper PPE, this is not how a responsible military meets the welfare requirements of its personnel, no matter how noble the cause.

The importance of material handling equipment (especially the Kalmar RTCH), being able to clear pathways out of a port area and the ability to move supplies out of port areas were again reinforced.

Minor capabilities like building a RORO ramp out of compacted earth and hard-core had a huge impact on the ability to flow stores through the port.

The ISO container continued to prove it is much more efficient than break bulk, the ability of the SS Cape May and SS Cornhusker State to load breakbulk into containers was invaluable in the reduction of crane and lighterage movements, moving half-empty containers is a fool’s errand.

Whilst the JLOTS piers and lighters were invaluable for moving plant and vehicles to shore the amount of double handling required for palletised and containerised stores meant in reality, it was quite inefficient.

If it has wheels, JLOTS is very good, if it doesn’t, there is a great deal of double and triple handling to be considered.

This is a minor criticism of JLOTS, the capability as a whole enabled a significant throughput of material.

The average terminal throughput pre-earthquake was unclear, estimates ranged from 223 TEU equivalents per day to 100. In much of the subsequent reporting, the lower figure seems the most common but although the higher figure comes from Lloyds Register the source of the lower remains unknown. Certainly, in most of the comparison reports of JLOTS v existing seaport the lower figure is used. The target figure is also difficult to pin down, originally it was 400 TEU per day, then 200-250 and then it stopped being reported.

By the 23rd of January, 2 Navy Lighterage piers enabled a figure of 100 TEU equivalent per day. The addition of 5 Army LCU’s on the 25th January pushed this to 300 and 5 days later when they were also joined by 3 INLS systems that went up to 700 TEU per day equivalent.

And yet despite this impressive throughput, it was very labour intensive and the figures above are potentials, the actuals were not as high.

The potential of the USNS Grasp was little understood, although she stayed the longest of any ship and offered invaluable salvage, survey and diver support she was initially characterised by SOUTHCOM as offering limited capability.

Survey and salvage are key enablers.

Delivering anything by helicopter, despite being very photogenic, is low capacity and inefficient, particularly for dense stores like water. Much was made of the water generation capability of amphibious warships and carriers but getting it to the point of need was another matter.

The large Army landing craft provided greater utility than the USMC and USN would like to admit.

Although the smaller ports around Port au Prince were in some cases undamaged they were arguably underutilised in the response, some of the JLOTS personnel and equipment might have been better used for this and indeed some of the civilian response did actually make use of these smaller ports.

What is abundantly clear is that ‘at scale’ there is no substitute for port facilities, going over the beach is great for the short term but simply cannot meet high volume demand.

Whilst many focus on the military response one could reasonably argue that it was a number of civilian governmental and commercial organisations that actually did the heavy lifting and received less credit than they should have.

Military Sealift Command, The Maritime Transportation System Recovery Unit, US Coast Guard, Transport Command, Crowley Marine, Titan Salvage, Seacor and Resolve Marine being notable examples. They were rolling quickly, often with only verbal agreements in place, Crowley even had a small floatplane fly in a survey team on the 18th of January, the Sea Express and Cape Express combined with the Marcajama and SS Cornhusker State and the survey and debris removal paved the way for the port to open with the Crowley barges.

The step-change in throughput when the two barges arrived was noticeable (although the actual profile, in reality, would have been smoother); as soon as the second Crowley barge was in place JLOTS was only used for military traffic.

Prior to this step change, the salvage effort took several weeks of painstaking effort with cutting torches and cranes.

Haiti Sea Port Throughput

The first barge arrived on the 13th of February after salvage and debris removal commenced on the 3rd of February. If this salvage operation had commenced earlier the barges may have been available sooner and the need for much of the JLOTS capability diminished, perhaps even if some military capabilities had been applied to the debris removal, explosive cutting charges and heavy-lift helicopters for example.

That a single cheap and simple barge with a crawler crane could deliver more than double the assembled military capability throughput is an interesting observation.

They are not the same of course and this does not suggest that the US DoD should replace all that JLOTS and Seabasing capability with a couple of barges but it might cause some pause for thought.

The utility of such mooring barges is a lesson that seemingly, has been lost.

In the final analysis, the effectiveness of the response was not about systems or equipment, it was about people, often, a small number of people in key positions.

And that is a lesson that should never be forgotten.


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