Saturday, May 14, 2011

Maritime industry takes precautions as Mississippi River rises

Richard Thompson in the Times-Picayune (New Orleans): As the Coast Guard considers closing the rain-swollen Mississippi River to deep-draft cargo shipping from Baton Rouge to Boothville, many in the local maritime industry are taking extra precautions in the meantime to navigate through the usually high water levels.

By Thursday, eight facilities were closed at the Port of South Louisiana in St. John the Baptist Parish as a result of the rising river, said Mitch Smith, operations manager for the port. “Just like everybody else, we’re monitoring it very closely,” he said. “You’ve got a very fast current, the river’s rising and it’s just a lot of safety issues there that are going to impact safe navigation,” he said, adding that “it’s having a pretty good impact on things.”

Cargo ships have needed to maintain enough speed to steer through the fast-moving currents and river pilots are requesting that vessels steer clear from one another. The wakes of the vessels could have an effect on the levees. “If they have a barge break away or something like that, and they hit the levee, there’s just a good possibility that there could be levee damage, and the levee could be breached, and we’d be in a lot of trouble,” Smith said.

Still, in terms of day-to-day operations at the port, Smith said, the effect has been minimal. “There’s no real impact on that right now,” he said.

Ron Branch, executive vice president of the Mississippi River Maritime Association, a nonprofit trade association of shipping agents, said communications will be key as the river continues to rise. “It’s really critical here that the vessel operators, the agents, the pilots, the Coast Guard, everybody just works together so that they know what’s going on, as far as any type of restrictions, what type of closures they’re looking at as far as facilities, and that keeps the stream of shipping flowing.”…

Barges on the Mississippi in New Orleans, shot by Ed Schipul, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

No comments: