Stranded in Houston, Tampa relief shipment to Puerto Rico gets some help

Published April 30 2018
Updated May 1 2018

TAMPA — A big ship’s visit to Port Tampa Bay is helping a much smaller vessel complete a relief mission to help victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

The 142-foot relief ship Glory put to sea three weeks ago from Port Tampa Bay with four shipping containers packed with supplies donated to the nonprofit Good Samaritan Shipping Ministries of Port St. Lucie.

First, however, it was making a stop at Port Houston, where it would pick up another 80 pallets of building and medical supplies, plus a 15-passenger van for use by relief teams in Puerto Rico.

But there, Texas volunteers rounded up material donations, but had less luck tapping a hurricane-battered and tapped-out city for money to pay for fuel. Without that, the Glory couldn’t make the trip to Mayaguez on Puerto Rico’s west coast and back.

"It’s nobody’s fault," Shawna Downs, who lives on Glory with her husband, James Downs, and their three children, said in a telephone interview Monday. "They’re still working on recovering from (Hurricane) Harvey out here."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Thousands of pounds of supplies sail from Port Tampa Bay to Puerto Rico

When Port Tampa Bay spokeswoman Samara Sodos heard about the Glory’s problem last week, she talked with Rafael Gaztambide, a local coordinator for the Tampa effort, and then reached out to an executive she had just met from Vulcan Materials, based in Alabama. On April 23, Vulcan had docked a new ship, the Ireland, at Port Tampa Bay. At 750 feet long, it was one of the biggest cargo ships ever to call at Tampa’s port, so it attracted a crowd that included both port officials and Vulcan executives, among them Atul Sabharwal, who runs Vulcan’s marine division out of an office in Houston.

Sodos reached out to Sabharwal. He checked with Vulcan management and the company’s fuel supplier, then agreed to donate 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel costing about $25,000. Vulcan tries to maintain strong community relationships, Sabharwal said, so "this is within our wheelhouse."

On Monday, Downs said the Glory could leave Houston by Wednesday.

"We’re blown away by their generosity," she said. "We’re getting everything buckled down. As soon as we take on fuel we will set sail."

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Contact Richard Danielson at or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times