May 28, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The US-built pier for humanitarian aid delivery was always a long-shot

It’s not easy to take small ships across an ocean and then get to the coast of a country and construct a floating pier.
May 28, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The US-built pier for humanitarian aid delivery was always a long-shot

It’s not easy to take small ships across an ocean and then get to the coast of a country and construct a floating pier.

The US-built floating pier faces a new hurdle in the delivery of aid to the coast of Gaza. The pier contained two elements, one of which was attached to the shore and the other of which was out at sea. The pier was constructed after US army vessels made a long month-and-a-half journey to Israel.

Now CNN and Reuters are reporting that the pier has been badly impacted by heavy seas. CNN characterized this as “broke apart.” Reuters said that “US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said bad weather was believed to be the reason that part had broken off.

They did not say how big the part was or speculate on how long it would take for the pier to resume operations.” During the night of May 24 a tug that is part of the pier, and resembles the pier itself, washed ashore on Ashdod beach.

On May 25 a US LCM landing craft also became stuck on the beach trying to free the tug section. The landing craft was pulled off on the evening of May 26, but the tug remained in the sand. It is not clear if it has been freed. Then a short video appeared on May 27 claiming to show the pier had “sunk” off the coast of Gaza. It showed a section apparently moored off the coast, but the other sections that were anchored to the coast missing.

I have followed the story of the pier closely. Four US army ships left in mid-March from Ft. Eustis. These included the USAV James A. Loux, USAV Montorrey, USAV Matamoros and USAV Wilson Wharf.

By April 17 the ships were in Crete in Souda Bay at a naval base. By this time, they included the USAV Matamoros, USAV James A. Loux, USAV Montorrey, and USAV General Frank S. Besson Jr. The USAV Wilson’s Wharf had stayed behind off the coast of West Africa. It wasn’t the only ship to turn back, apparently. Another ship did as well. On May 15 US Central Command said that the pier could begin operations within days.

Signs of problems in the operation

However, there were already signs of problems in this operation. The pier had been put together off the coast of Ashdod. The pier floats and it is composed of modular sections. The way it is intended to work is that you put the sections together and then tug boats can move it to a place where it can be moored or anchored.

Then cargo ships deliver cargo to the floating pier. The cargo can then be put on the ships like USAV Matamoros and moved to shore or moved to the section of the floating pier that is attached to the shore. The pallets that arrive by cargo ship to the floating pier can be put on trucks that then roll on and off the boats like the Matamoros, and drive ashore on the floating pier. It’s an incredibly complex operation.

The ships are part of the US Army’s 7th Transportation Brigade of the 18th Airborne Corps. Back in March US Central Command said the ships “from the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary), 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, XVIII Airborne Corps, departed Joint Base Langley-Eustis en route to the Eastern Mediterranean to establish a roll-on, roll-off dock capability that allows the ship to shore humanitarian assistance to Gaza. SP4 James A. Loux, Monterrey, Matamoros, and Wilson’s Wharf are carrying equipment and supplies needed to establish a temporary pier to deliver vital humanitarian supplies.”

The story here is that, like any military operation, complexity always makes things difficult. There were a lot of variables here. They had to attach a section to the land near the Netzarim corridor, an IDF controlled area south of Gaza city. That section had to be defended as well. The US put a C-RAM system on the floating pier. The system can shoot down mortars and other threats. The US didn’t want boots on the ground, so the system sat on the floating section. The danger from shelling was only one problem.

There was also the weather problem. Reports say that the pier was not designed to withstand a heavy sea, or in fact it seems any seas in which waves reached over 1.5 meters.

On the coast of Israel and Gaza it is common for the waves to get up to 1 meter or 1.5 meters and for winds to gust sometimes at 20 knots. It seems that any time there was even a hint of a storm the planners didn’t want the pier at sea, so it had to be towed back to an area off Ashdod on May 24. This means it was only operational for a short time.

CENTCOM was proud of the work it did. It said that as of May 24, 903 metric tons of aid had been delivered from the beach to a UN warehouse. In addition some 1,005 metric tons had been delivered by CENTCOM from the sea to the beach, of which 184 tons arrived to the beach on May 23-24.“

The men and women of US Central Command are proud to support USAID in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. This corridor is a multinational and combined effort led by USAID and the Department of Defense – alongside the Republic of Cyprus, the United Nations, and international donors, including the UAE, the United Kingdom, Romania, and the European Union.” Deliveries basically took place from May 17 to 24. Then the bad weather led to the current problems.

Several voices see in the pier’s problems a symbol of US failure during this war. These critics are dispersed across the political spectrum.

You have people who oppose Israel and the US administration’s support of Israel and think of the pier as symbolic of how the US cobbled together a bad operation to fix a humanitarian crisis that Israel caused. They have been cheering what they think is its demise. On the other hand there are also pro-Israel voices who think the Biden administration has made a wreck of its policy in the region, and that the pier is an example of this kind of incompetence.

While the critics may have a point on the larger story, as they see it, the fact is that an operation like this pier was always going to be a complex logistical long-shot. It’s not easy to take small ships across an ocean and then get to the coast of a country and construct a floating pier.

The logistics here were very complex. Sections of the pier and the landing craft had to be transported, and a large number of ships brought in to manage this work.

It may also show that the concept of a floating pier has inherent problems, because if the pier can’t withstand a tough sea then it is always going to need to be moved around. What if the pier didn’t have Ashdod port, and the coastline was more hostile? This is certainly a learning experience and the real story of the pier may now be that it comes down to learning how it actually can function. 

Seth Frantzman is the author of Drone Wars: Pioneers, Killing Machine, Artificial Intelligence and the Battle for the Future (Bombardier 2021) and an adjunct fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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