UpdateCoast Guard works to un-jam ship traffic

18 September 2008 22:08  [Source: ICIS news]

US Gulf ship jam growsBy Lane Kelley and Heather McGuire Doyle

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HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Coast Guard was working to repair the navigation lanes that were destroyed by Hurricane Ike, which in turn has caused a massive traffic jam of ships awaiting entry to the Houston Ship Channel, the agency said on Thursday.

The Coast Guard said during a press conference that 186 navigation lane buoys out of 200 such buoys were destroyed by Ike, which blew ashore on Friday night.

The Coast Guard said there were 164 vessels waiting to get into the Houston Ship Channel early Thursday so they could unload at the Port of Houston.

Debris from Hurricane Ike was also cited as an obstacle.

"We can't really let a large boat with a big draft in yet," said Coast Guard petty officer Victoria Bonk.

The situation has also prevented ship pilots from reaching the vessels to guide them through the channel, the Coast Guard said.

Also, only 24 of 122 docking facilities on the ship channel were ready to receive vessels, said Coast Guard captain Marcus Woodring, deputy incident commander.

The Coast Guard said the ship channel was open at all times to ships with a draft of 16 feet or less, but would be open for daylight transit only from Seas Buoy in Galveston to Sims Bayou at project depth and from Sims Bayou to the Turning Basin for ships with a draft of 30 feet or less.

Daylight passage was required so ship pilots could see debris and other obstacles.

But a Port of Houston official blamed the shipping traffic jam on a lack of power there.

"We do not, we do not, we do not have power," said Argentina James, the port's director of public affairs. "CenterPoint has not made it a priority to get our power on."

CenterPoint Energy is the main electrical utility in the Houston area.

Leticia Lowe, spokeswoman for CenterPoint, said the utility was waiting for the Coast Guard to provide a list of priority spots at the port for re-establishing power.

"We've been working to establish power with all our key facilities and they certainly would be one of them," Lowe said.

The port on Wednesday received full clearance by the Coast Guard for all of its facilities, but James said electrical power was yet to be restored.

James said the Houston port had full power at the Bayport Cruise Terminal, but she said the most crucial point, the Barbour's Cut Container Terminal, was operating on generator power and could not accept container ships.

"When they open the stores there's still going to be nothing on the shelves because the ships can't get in," James said.

"At some point they're going to have to divert to another port, which is what we don't want them to do," James added. "They can't be sitting out there at a sea buoy forever."

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By: Lane Kelley
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