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Coast Guard: 118 Ships waiting to call at Gulf Ports

Coast Guard: 118 Ships waiting to call at Gulf Ports

The U.S. Coast Guard said 118 ships are backed up awaiting entry to Gulf Coast ports affected by Hurricane Ike.

   While counts for individual ports were not available, Coast Guard Petty Officer Annie Berlin said ships are anchored awaiting entry into the Texas ports of Houston, Galveston, Freeport and Texas City as well Lake Charles, La.

   Michael Hackmeyer, manager U.S. Gulf for the shipping agency Norton Lilly, said that while the situation is changing minute-to-minute, “some of the terminals just are not yet ready” for ships to call.

   For example, Port of Houston said “a range of serious complications due to the lack of electricity” prevented it from opening for business Wednesday.

   The Port of Beaumont said electrical service has been restored to the majority of its port facilities and that it “continues to move closer to normal operations.” It said BNSF, Union Pacific and Kansas City-Southern — the three Class I railroads that serve the Port of Beaumont — are expected to be back in service by the end of the week after being disrupted by the storm’s landfall last weekend.

   Beaumont port officials said truck transportation throughout Southeast Texas was not interrupted. Interstate 10 and other major highways serving the port reopened shortly after Ike moved through the area Saturday.

   It said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Coast Guard were expected to complete surveys of the Sabine-Neches Waterway Tuesday and expect the ship channel to be reopened to limited marine traffic by Wednesday.

   The Coast Guard has also restricted passage in some ports, including the Houston Ship Channel.

   Hackmeyer said several liner companies have diverted vessels to discharge and load cargo in New Orleans this weekend instead of Houston.

   While diverting containerized cargo to other ports can boost inland drayage costs, Hackmeyer said container companies are keen to avoid disruption to their schedules because it will create problems at the subsequent ports their ships call. And some carriers might lose appointments for transits through the Panama Canal.

   He noted that some ships bound for New Orleans are also in anchorage as terminals work off a backlog that developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Gustav.

   Container vessels have more options than tankers or bulk carriers, which often must go to a specific terminal to load or discharge cargo, but Hackmeyer said some bulk vessels are also discussing vessel diversions.

   Hackmeyer said it will probably take at least two weeks to four weeks for the backlog at Texas ports to be worked off.

   The Coast Guard said the Houston Ship Channel is open at all times to ships with a draft of 16 feet or less, but will remain open for daylight transit only from the entrance of the Ship Channel to the Shell Oil and Chemical Facility in Deer Park, Texas, for ships with a draft of 38 feet or less.

   Traffic beyond that point to the Turning Basin is open for daylight transit only for ships with a draft of 30 feet or less.

   The Port of Galveston is open to maritime traffic with a draft of 16 feet or less, but will remain open during daylight transit only for ships with a draft of 30 feet or less.

   Traffic is open in the Port of Texas City at all times to maritime traffic with a draft of 16 feet or less.

   The Coast Guard said mariners are advised that aids to navigation may be off station and should exercise the slowest speed and use caution when transiting through the area.

   Local, state and federal agencies are continuing to survey all navigable waterways impacted by Hurricane Ike. All other waterway restrictions in the Houston-Galveston area remain in place until ongoing post-hurricane assessments for aids to navigation, pollution and navigational hazards are completed, the Coast Guard said.

   At the Port of Galveston, The Galveston Daily News, USA Today and local television stations reported that cars left by cruise passengers in port parking lots were ruined by the storm.

   As a result of the closure of the Port of Galveston, Carnival Cruise Lines said two of its ships, Carnival Conquest and Carnival Ecstasy, are scheduled to operate their regular cruise programs from the Port of Houston’s Bayport Cruise Terminal effective with this weekend’s departures. ' Chris Dupin

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