Business Monday

A glimpse of commerce along the Miami River

Workers tie a line from the cargo ship "Betty K VII" as it is delivered to the cargo yard by a couple of tugboats from P&L Towing and Transportation.
Workers tie a line from the cargo ship "Betty K VII" as it is delivered to the cargo yard by a couple of tugboats from P&L Towing and Transportation. MIAMI HERALD, File, June 6, 2008


RMK Merrill-Stevens wants Miami to resume its role as a destination for yachts of distinction. In its heyday, the shipyard gave safe harbor to the rich and famous.

The shipyard serviced the superyacht KALIZMA, the 165-foot Edwardian Motor Yacht Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor and rechristened in honor of his three children, Kate, Liza and Maria. Jacques-Yves Cousteau entrusted Merrill-Stevens with repairing his research vessel, the Calypso, a former British Royal Navy minesweeper built of Oregon pine. Malcolm Forbes was a regular customer, with The Highlander, whose passengers boarded to the blast of a bagpiper or descended from the magazine magnate’s golden helicopter that landed on the yacht’s top deck helipad. Other celebrity clients included Ivana Trump, Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage.

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The Merrill-Stevens boatyard has had a storied history. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Merrill

“Merrill-Stevens has almost every known celebrity with a yacht come through this yard at one time,” said Business Development Manager Stan Crooks. “This was the mecca.” At the time, Crooks said, Miami was the only place south of Savannah that could accommodate the yachts, and Miami had the advantage due to easy access with its airport only 10 minutes away and a thriving cultural environment in the Brickell Avenue corridor.

One of the oldest businesses in Miami, Merrill-Stevens began building boats on the river in 1923. James Merrill and Alonzo Stevens originally founded the company in Jacksonville in 1885. Rahmi Mustafa Koç, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist from Turkey, acquired the six-acre shipyard in 2013. Located on both sides of the river, the World War II-era facilities are undergoing upgrades to accommodate superyachts measuring up to 240 feet in length. The improved capacity is expected to generate enough work to double the workforce from its existing 22 employees to 44 next year, said Crooks.

RMK Merrill-Stevens

Location: 881 NW 13th Avenue, Miami

(Latitude: 25.782172; Longitude: 80.216367)

Founded: 1885 in Jacksonville; 1923 in Miami

Management: Rahmi Mustafa Koç, owner; Aaron Leatherwood, CEO; Ibrahim Guldiken, CFO; Brent Allsop, Senior Project Manager; Stan Crooks, Business Development Manager; and Roland Leutschaft, Purchasing Manager.

Employees: 22, expect to expand to 44 in 2018

Annual Revenues: $50 million+

Contact: 305-324-5211;


The Betty K Line, named for the daughter of company founder C. Trevor Kelly, was originally designed to ship lumber to Kelly’s Lumber Yard in the Bahamian capital of Nassau. Established in Nassau in 1920, the company expanded to include a terminal on the Miami River in 2003.

The Betty K Line includes three multi-purpose vessels, the Betty K VI, the Betty K VII and the Betty K VIII. In March, the company purchased a container vessel, the Betty K IX. The new ship will assist the company’s expansion plans to include the Turks and Caicos as another port of call for its freight services. The new venture necessitated nearly doubling the Miami operation, adding staff and additional space.

Betty K Agencies (USA), LLC

Location: 3701 NW South River Drive, Miami

Founded: 2003 (The parent company, Betty K Agencies, Ltd., is based in the Bahamas and was founded in 1920.)

Management: Ron G. Adams, General Manager

Employees: 34 (up from 18 in June 2017)

Annual Revenues: $2.3 million

Contact: 305-635-4650;


Antillean Marine Shipping Corp.

Cuba is known as the Pearl of the Antilles. So, it is only fitting that the three Babun brothers who fled Cuba in 1960 would name their shipping line in honor of their roots. Their family-owned business began with a single break-bulk ship and has since grown to include five container ships, three tugboats and six supporting companies: Americas Marine Management Services; Miami River Towing to operate the tugboats; three trucking companies with 50 18-wheelers — National Express Transport, Babun Express, and USA Road Express; and Florida Container Repair (expressly for maintenance to the containers and their chassis). The group of companies includes 180 full-time employees, according to Human Resources Manager Roselvic Noguera.

An Antillean Marine worker walks through the ship as the final preparations are made before the ship sails on Thurs., June 29, 2017. Bryan Cereijo Miami Herald Staff

The largest shipping line operating on the Miami River, Antillean Marine serves 50,000 customers and annually ships 8,300 TEUs (the standard 20-foot long containers). The Miami River marine community supplies 80 percent of Haiti’s shipping needs, with 50 percent provided by Antillean Marine, Noguera said. The company also supplies as much as 40 percent of the Dominican Republic’s goods via its container cargo.

Antillean ships out a lot of dry goods such as rice and beans, as well as anything from batteries to exotic cars owned by professional baseball players from the Dominican Republic. The ships come back with medical devices and clothing manufactured in the Dominican Republic, including Levi’s® jeans and Hanesbrands garments.

Location: 3038 NW Teofilo Babun Drive (NW North River Drive), Miami

Founded: 1963 by three brothers -- José, Teofilo and Abraham Babun, who fled Cuba in 1960.

Management: Sara C. Babun, President and CEO (She is the eldest daughter of José Babun-Selman, the youngest of the founding brothers.); Yadira Fernandez, Business Development Manager; Alberto Gonzalez-Viñas, CPA and Chief Financial Officer; Duber Luzardo, Safety and Security Manager; Roselvic Noguera, Human Resources Manager; Nancy Perez, Administrative General Manager; Robert D. Taylor, VP of Finance; Yeline Valdes, Executive VP.

Employees: 180

Annual Revenues: $27.8 million (Not including the revenues from the six ancillary companies)

Contact: 305-633-6361;

The Miami River supports a multibillion-dollar marine industry of tugs, cargo ships, sports fishermen and pleasure craft owners.

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