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Captain of the Port controls hurricane maneuvers before, during and after major storms

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As I sat hunkered down with family last month awaiting Hurricane Matthew to arrive in South Florida, I received emails and texts from various government agencies providing updates on the storm and their own preparedness.

I continually watch for these from the U.S. Coast Guard. They are always tuned in to the exact weather conditions. For South Florida, port conditions are set by the Captain of the Port (COTP) for Sector Miami, whose area of responsibility includes the ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach, and Fort Pierce.

Each USCG sector documents its emergency responses based upon local needs. For South Florida, the USCG has assigned four conditions when a tropical system approaches.

Port Condition Whiskey

This condition is assigned when sustained gale force winds (39-54 mph; 34-47 knots) are predicted to arrive within 72 hours. Actions to be taken include:

  • Ports and waterfront facilities begin removing all debris and secure potential flying hazards.
  • In commercial ports, container stacking plans should be implemented.
  • The COTP will convene the Strategic Weather Advisory Team (SWAT) via conference call.

Port Condition X-Ray

This condition is assigned when sustained gale force winds are expected within 48 hours. Actions to be taken include:

  • All potential flying debris will be removed or secured.
  • Hazardous materials/pollution hazards must be secured away from waterfront areas.
  • In commercial ports, facilities will continue to implement container stacking protocol to be complete by the setting of Port Condition Yankee.
  • Containers must not exceed four tiers unless previously approved by the COTP.
  • Containers carrying hazardous materials may not exceed two tiers.
  • All oceangoing commercial vessels greater than 500 gross tons must prepare to depart. These vessels shall depart immediately upon the setting of Port Condition Yankee.
  • Vessels unable to depart must contact the COTP to receive permission to remain. Proof of facility owner/operator approval is required.
  • Vessels with COTP’s permission to remain must implement their approved mooring arrangement.
  • Terminal operators should prepare to terminate all cargo operations.

Port Condition Yankee

This condition is assigned when sustained gale force winds are expected within 24 hours. Actions to be taken include:

  • Affected ports closed to inbound vessel traffic.
  • Appropriate container stacking protocol must be completed.
  • Terminal operators must terminate all cargo operations not associated with storm preparations.
  • In commercial ports, cargo operations associated with storm preparations including securing cargo within or off the port, crane and other port/facility equipment preparations, and similar activities are authorized.
  • Oceangoing commercial vessels greater than 500 gross tons must depart unless prior permission to remain has been granted by the COTP.
  • Drawbridges may be closed to vessel traffic as early as eight hours prior to the arrival of tropical storm-force winds.

Port Condition Zulu

This condition is assigned when sustained gale force winds are expected within 12 hours. Actions to be taken include:

  • All affected port waterfront operations are suspended except for final preparations previously permitted by the COTP.
  • All vessels shall have departed the ports and anchorages unless otherwise authorized by the COTP.
  • Port and waterfront facilities shall remain closed to waterfront activities until the passage of tropical storm force winds. Reopening of a port or waterway will be based upon:

o Damage survey assessments.

o Aids to navigation verification.

o Status and condition of drawbridges.

o Re-establishment of required port security measures in accordance with respective facility security plans.

Post-Hurricane Conditions

Affected ports will remain closed until the following conditions are met to the satisfaction of the COTP:

  • Ports should begin to conduct damage assessments. Movement within the port landside is authorized when deemed safe. Designated Coast Guard Port Survey Team members must notify the COTP upon determination that the port is physically/structurally safe to recommence operations.
  • Coast Guard Ports and Waterways Survey teams will conduct preliminary assessments in the ports and waterways as soon as weather conditions permit.
  • Facilities may not receive cargo or passengers until specifically authorized by the COTP. At a minimum, the COTP must be advised by the Facility Security Officer that facility security plans are fully implemented and Customs and Border Protection is prepared to process passengers/cargo, as applicable, and Coast Guard Port Survey Teams have verified that security measures are in place.
  • Bridge operations will remain coordinated through respective Emergency Operation Centers until the COTP determines that resumption of bridge operations is safe.
  • Safety zones established around the ports and waterways during the event will remain in effect until rescinded by the COTP. No vessel movement or port operations will be authorized without the express permission of the COTP. Anticipate the potential for draft and other restrictions based upon the assessment of waterways and aids to navigation surveys.

Capt. Jake DesVergers is chief surveyor for International Yacht Bureau (www.yachtbureau.org). Comments are welcome at editor@the-triton.com.

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