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3 Tampa Bay area ports closed to brace for Hurricane Ian

Florida fuel supplies ‘tight,’ but there’s no sign yet of price surge

Sunset ocean sailboat journey is a small boat sailing towards the light of adventure, faith, freedom and hope as an approaching surreal storm looms overhead.

The Port of Tampa is under Port Condition Zulu and has closed in anticipation of Hurricane Ian’s arrival.

The Florida Ports Council said in a tweet that the U.S. Coast Guard has closed not only Tampa but also the Port of St. Petersburg and SeaPort Manatee, which is on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay, north of the Sunshine Skyway bridge

The closures occurred earlier Tuesday morning even as the latest track from the National Weather Service has the storm making landfall farther south toward Sarasota, Florida, rather than a direct hit on Tampa.

“In accordance with the current port condition, Port Tampa Bay has secured waterfront facilities and dock areas to remove debris and hazardous materials,” the Port of Tampa said on its Twitter feed.

Port Condition Zulu means the facility is shut down, gale force winds are expected within 12 hours but fueling operations can continue. 

“While the port’s waterways are closed, our port staff will continue to work to ensure we can reopen to full operations as soon as safely possible to support the community and region we serve,” the port said in a statement about its storm preparations.

The port’s statement mostly dealt with what it plans to do after the storm moves through. It said it has put together teams to “prepare to assess and quickly recover to ensure an efficient return to operations.”

Meanwhile, the port of Jacksonville will go to the less restrictive Condition Yankee at 1 a.m. Wednesday and then go to Zulu, with a closed port, at noon Wednesday.

Tampa is not a major container port. But it is a major port for fuel, mostly barged over from refining centers on the Gulf Coast, such as the New Orleans and Houston areas.

The state’s fuel supplies arrive 97% by barge, according to Ned Bowman, the executive director of the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association. Closures of ports will be a primary cause of tightening fuel supplies in the state, Bowman said.

Bowman told FreightWaves that supplies are “tight,” but he had not seen numerous outages. However, Patrick De Haan of GasBuddy, which tracks prices and supplies of gas and diesel, said in a tweet Tuesday morning that about 1-in-10 Tampa-area gas stations were out of gas. His reporting through his Twitter feed tends to focus on gas, not diesel.

There is no sign yet of increased prices. To the contrary, truck stop operator Pilot Flying J, which provides a downloadable spreadsheet of all its prices nationwide, is reporting that Florida outlets in Fort Myers and Ocala had both cut their prices 10 cents per gallon between Sunday and Tuesday. 

At Love’s, the company’s website says all its locations are open and “not affected directly by severe weather.”

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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.