Perils of Mother Nature

Wind tunnel: inclement weather can quickly cripple a port. Credit: NOAA Photo Library Wind tunnel: inclement weather can quickly cripple a port. Credit: NOAA Photo Library

COMMENT: Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature. This is a reality that many seafarers fully appreciate, but not one that that is always grasped by those of us with our feet on terra firma. That is until an event occurs like the one in Brisbane on November 13 and in Freeport, Grand Bahama October 5-6.

The Brisbane incident involved what many dubbed as a ‘mini cyclone’ which saw empty container stacks knocked down in the port and individual empty units thrown around. An initial storm was recorded at Brisbane airport (close to the port) at 1500 hrs with gusts measuring up to 106 km per/hr. A second storm, at 1730 hrs, generated gusts of up to 158 km per/hr.


Both container terminals at the port – the DP World (DPW) terminal and Patricks’ terminal - sustained damage. The damage at the DPW terminal was sufficient to close it for approximately 24 hours until full damage assessment and clear-up was undertaken.


There was no serious damage to quayside infrastructure such as crane knockdowns.


This was, however, not the case in the earlier incident in Freeport, Grand Bahama in the Caribbean. The port of Freeport’s container facilities function as a container transhipment hub for the east coast of the US and surrounding region and are extensively utilised by the 2M Alliance members Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Maersk Line. The port suffered extensive damage at the hands of Hurricane Matthew which generally wreaked havoc across the Bahamas. This included the knockdown of two cranes and serious damage to a number of others, one of which may be certified as unable to be repaired. So, in all, possibly three new quay cranes required as a result of storm damage with another one added to the list as a result of fire damage earlier in the year.


At least three others out of the 10 units Freeport Container Terminal operates had to be tested following the storm to determine their condition. The yard area was equally hard hit with reportedly up to 20 straddle carriers knocked over.


Cruise challenge


Freeport also functions as a major cruise destination port and, as is the case with container vessel operations, as of mid-November had not restored full services. The diversion of some container cargo continued as did the extensive diversion of cruise lines – not just due to port damage but also damage to core attractions which form part of the cruise destination experience.


It is understood that, at the time of writing, only two of the Hutchison-operated Freeport Container Terminal’s three berths were functioning – one able to accept the larger size vessels and the other smaller size vessels. The general prospect, however, is of the continuing lengthy diversion of 2M vessels to other ports. Cruise line diversions are expected to continue into the New Year.


Kingston, Jamaica is one of the port’s receiving diverted MSC vessels and Panama and Caucedo terminals are also reported to be handling diverted 2M vessels.


For Freeport, this is the second time it has been the recipient of major damage at the hands of severe weather, having previously been hit by a tornado in March 2010. On this occasion, in the space of just two or three minutes, a tornado knocked down one quay crane and pushed another four into the crane at the end of the gantry tracks knocking that one over. There were three fatalities and six injuries, two of which were serious.


The incident will be the subject of serious review with particular reference to tornadoes as opposed to the more usual hurricanes experienced in the Caribbean.


These are not the sort of incidents that operators are keen to share their experience in a publicity context, but It is nevertheless a subject that is worthy of some sort of common discussion particularly with a view of working towards risk mitigation in the future.

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