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U.S. Promotes Tug-and-Barge Option to Deliver Aid to Gaza

A deck barge with an embarked crane delivered containerized aid to Haiti during the 2010 earthquake response (USN file image)
A deck barge with an embarked crawler crane delivered aid to Haiti during the 2010 earthquake response (USN file image)

Published Mar 12, 2024 9:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Biden administration is quietly pushing for a commercial tug-and-barge operation to fill the need for aid delivery to Gaza, where famine looms amidst ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. 

The Biden administration is dispatching five U.S. Army landing craft and 1,000 personnel to waters off Gaza to prepare a temporary pier structure. Once built, the floating pier will transfer truckload deliveries from sealift ships directly to the beach. 

While effective at scale, the Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS) pier and related operations will take as long as two months to prepare, and the UN is expected to declare a famine in Gaza before the end of this week. Humanitarian advocates say that the civilian population needs an immediate solution, including an easing of Israel's border crossing restrictions. 

A convoy of U.S. Army landing craft departs Joint Base Langley for Gaza, March 12 (U.S. Army)

To fill the gap, U.S. officials are working on a tug-and-barge delivery option that could start running in as little as one month, well before the JLOTS operation. Since Gaza lacks a functioning commercial port, a rudimentary receiving terminal would have to be dredged out along the shore, Reuters reported. At peak capacity, this would be enough to handle about 40 percent of Gaza's pre-conflict aid cargo volume. 

This commercial initiative would not be U.S.-funded, but the arrangements are being set up by a U.S.-linked humanitarian aid consultancy, government sources told Reuters. Jamie McGoldrick, UN aid coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, confirmed this and said that Qatar and the UAE are supporting the plan. 

The idea has precedent: humanitarian aid group World Central Kitchen launched a tug-and-barge sealift operation from Cyprus to Gaza on Monday with an initial consignment of 200 tonnes of food. The group is building a jetty out of rubble for offloading the cargo, and has acknowledged that it is a high-risk effort for a nonprofit to undertake. It has backing from the UAE government, which provided some of the aid cargo for the first delivery.