Lower Mississippi open, Port of New Orleans ‘damaged’ but ‘workable’
The U.S. Coast Guard has opened the lower Mississippi River to ships with a draft of 35 feet in daylight hours, allowing access to the Port of New Orleans. However, vessels must use one-way channels in the vicinity of the port, waiting for another ship to pass before they can go.
In many places, river buoys are gone and uncertain channels have made even experienced pilots very cautious. Hurricane-deposited silt could cause deep-draft vessels to run aground, as could sunken barges.
The Louisiana Pilots Association reported that hundreds of barges have disappeared, each carrying an average of 1,600 tons of cargo.
“The Port of New Orleans, riverfront terminals survived Hurricane Katrina in fairly decent shape,” said Gary LaGrange, port president and chief executive officer. “Although they are damaged, they are still workable once electrical power and manpower is available.” He added that for the next several weeks, the port “will be dedicated to military relief vessels.”
Two of the four gantry cranes at the Napoleon and Nashville Avenue port complexes may have suffered damage to their electronic components, LaGrange explained. Containers “remain strew about” at both sites.
The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO), an alternate route for the Mississippi River, is open to vessels with nine feet of draft. “It could be opened to 27 feet of draft once debris is removed from the channel. The conditions of the terminals along the MRGO and the Industrial Canal are unknown, except that they have no electrical power and they are severely flooded,” LaGrange said.
The port has requested diesel fuel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to run shipboard generators that will create electricity to run port operations, and LaGrange said that will be critical to getting operations resumed.
Over the long weekend, at least 15 ships passed the Port of New Orleans on their way upriver. Seven vessels were heading downriver toward the Gulf.
When the Mississippi is open to normal traffic in both directions, which could happen this week, more vessels are expected to travel 130 miles to the Port of Baton Rouge, which was not significantly damaged.