Evaluating the Maritime Response to Puerto Rico Following Hurricane Maria using AIS Data

Steven D Meyers, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, St Petersburg, FL, United States and MARK Edward Luther, University of South Florida, St Petersburg, FL, United States
Proper utilization of maritime resources following disasters are essential to the recovery and resilience of coastal communities. Hurricane Maria produced unprecedented damage when it hit the US territory of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Relief supplies and services to the island were mostly delivered by ship. These relief efforts, particularly those by the US, remain widely debated. The maritime response to this disaster was evaluated using vessel traffic data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS). These data, obtained from governmental and private sector sources, were first processed through an error detection and correction algorithm. The number, class, and flag of each ship docked at port or anchored offshore were determined for September and October 2017. The initial focus was on the 2 weeks immediately following the storm. The first vessel to arrive at port (on 9/22) was a US Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) vessel. Eighty vessels from 17 countries were soon involved in relief efforts, including 32 tugs, 25 cargo ships, and 12 tankers. Of these, 49 were US-flagged. The initial delivery of materials was uneven. Only 2 of the cargo ships called on ports other than San Juan, as did 3 of the tankers. The 2 cargo ships calling on smaller ports were smaller vessels (length < 100 m) and both were US-flagged. US flagged vessels were primarily involved in SAR, law enforcement, vessel traffic control, and medical relief. Six US-flagged cargo ships made it to port in the first two weeks. Hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived at the Port of San Juan 10/3, remained less than 2 days, and then moved offshore until 10/27. Other vessels appear to have stayed offshore for days or weeks before making port.