CRUZ BAY — Moving the people and things needed to get the Caribbean National Parks through hurricane recovery is the mission of the M/V Fort Jefferson, a 110-foot transport ship. The vessel was assigned by the National Park Service to aid Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after park systems were hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September.
According to a statement from NPS, South Florida, the 110-foot MV Fort Jefferson began its latest mission Sept. 25. The vessel left Key West, loaded with over 24 tons of supplies and equipment.
At the end of the 78-hour voyage were the national historic sites, monuments, and parks making up the Caribbean NPS system. Its cargo arrived in time to support a 400 member Incident Management team sent to get the park’s recovery started.
“The NPS Eastern Incident Management Team currently has 392 laborers, saw teams, arborists, heavy equipment operators and other employees on the ground in South Florida, along the Atlantic coast, and in the Caribbean, clearing debris and working to safely reopen parks damaged by Hurricane Irma,” the NPS statement said.
On-site at the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor’s Center in Cruz Bay, Public Information Officer Katy Hooper described the daily operations of the Fort Jefferson, now in its second month providing support.
NPS responders now in the VI come from park systems as far away as Washington state and California, the NPS information officer said. On a Tuesday morning in October crewmen from Sequoia National Park heaved cases of bottled water along a human chain from the vessel to the visitor’s center. This particular trip brought along water, rations and additional personnel, Hooper said
“It’s being used to support the Caribbean hurricane effort, bringing in supplies from Puerto Rico to St. John and St. Croix, to support different crews that are here,” Hooper said.
Normally part of the transportation system at Dry Tortugas National Park, the Fort Jefferson ferries personnel and supplies between locations in its South Florida home. Its current journey is being tracked over the internet at www.vesselfinder.com.