First ship docks at damaged Port-au-Prince harbour

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The Independent US

The Port is finally back in Port-au-Prince after a cargo ship called the Crimson Clover gingerly docked at the city’s commercial pier, becoming the first vessel to successfully land in the harbour since large portions of it were violently knocked into the Caribbean Sea.

The ship had left Mobile, Alabama last week carrying roughly 2,200 tonnes of food supplies, in 124 large containers. She arrived on Tuesday with a toot of her foghorn and message of hope to an island nation that counts the high seas as one of its most crucial incoming supply routes.

In stark contrast to the airport, where American and French officials have come to blows over the right to land planes on the congested runway, the port was a model of Franco-American co-operation. It was jointly staffed by US coastguards and Gendarmes, together with members of the Navy from both countries.

Unloading ships will remain a problem, since cranes have toppled into the water throughout the harbour, and access roads have huge cracks in them. Only 228 of the port’s 1350 metres of pier are so far deemed safe to use, and capacity is being further reduced by limits to the number of vehicles allowed on it at one time.

“The pier was damaged by the quake, but slightly operational,” said Captain Mike Pierno of the US Coastguard. “We are only allowing trucks to drive on the Western side of the pier, and we are only allowing one of them on it at a timer to prevent further damage.”

Teams of French and US Navy divers spent days under-water checking that access lanes are clear and that the concrete pier is sufficiently intact before allowing Crimson Clover, which had been sent by CRS, a Catholic charity, to dock in port.

“The depths under water haven’t changed, and from a point of view of obstructions we are fairly clear coming in,” said Captain Dale Fleck, leading the team of divers. “But there has been some damage to pilings that support the pier, and need some repair. It will take about 30 days to complete.”

Shortly after the Crimson Clover a French Navy vessel called the Francis Garnier docked carrying ambulances, diggers, and about 60 soldiers. It was welcomed into port by US troops, who frantically attempted to find a colleague who could speak the new arrivals’ language.

It was a far cry from the airport, where the French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres was once again being denied permission to land a flight. The plane, carrying 12 tonnes of medical equipment, was re-routed after circling the overcrowded runway three times.

Five MSF flights have now been prevented from getting into Port-au-Prince. We have had five patients die for lack of the medical supplies that this plane was carrying,” said Loris de Filippi, emergency coordinator for MSF’s Choscal Hospital in the Cite Soleil district of Port-au-Prince. “I have never seen anything like this.”