Event: Hurricane Matthew, 2016

In 2016, Category 4 Hurricane Matthew hit the Bahamas and disrupted the Port of Freeport, a key transshipment hub in the Caribbean (UNECLAC and IDB, 2020).

Causes and impact

Hurricane Matthew caused a disruption, which led to the port congestion. Factors exacerbating the disruption include: (i) poor infrastructure with deficient structural construction standards; (ii) insufficient use of steel, stone reinforcement and gravel in the aggregate material; and (iii) deficient infrastructure maintenance (AON Benfield, 2017).

The Bahamas lost 1.1 per cent of its total gross domestic product (GDP), with its two largest sectors, tourism and fisheries, being heavily affected. Restoration of power took several weeks, especially on the Grand Bahama island. The lack of electricity severely impacted water and sanitation, health and education services, and wired services, including landline phones, fixed internet and cable television systems.

Damage to the transportation infrastructure was estimated at $13 million. The port’s structural pillars and loading areas were damaged, but the docks were less affected. The storm knocked out the power supply of terminal equipment and several ship-to-shore (STS) cranes. Freeport terminal halted operations to repair cranes, and container carriers were forced to re-route vessels to other ports. Unlike other ports in the Bahamas, the Port of Freeport remained closed until mid-November due to extensive damage to local infrastructure and businesses. Roads on the island were damaged by Hurricane Matthew, but this had a limited impact on the port’s transshipment operations.

Response and mitigation measures

Responses included a coordinated emergency plan from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC, 2016), the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN-ECLAC), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), as well as private sector stakeholders, such as the logistics emergency team, which formed by the World Economic Forum in 2005 to assist the United Nations during large-scale natural disasters, and which comprises four global logistics and transportation companies (UPS, Agility, Moeller Maersk and DP World) (Canty M., 2016).

Lessons learned and good practice

  • Carry out risk assessment and risk management planning.
  • Establish regional partnerships to jointly face common challenges and provide early warning signals, especially through shared technology investments.
  • Further collaboration, promote joint efforts, seek experience sharing and optimize resource use (OCHA-PDC Global, 2021).
  • Elaborate methodological assessment and guides that help identify the most likely natural hazards and map these against the most vulnerable assets and priority areas requiring mitigation measures.
  • Existing vulnerability and impact assessments and experiences from other areas or sectors in terms of response and adaptation to disruptions can provide lessons on how to build resilience in ports.
  • Ensure long-term investment and planning to reduce vulnerability to disruptions, including natural disasters and promote adaptation action in ports (Freetown Container Port, 2022).