TAMPA — The waterways are mostly closed, the cranes are secured and the cargo is stacked low as Port Tampa Bay, an energy gateway for Central Florida, prepares for Hurricane Ian.
Its port condition was set to “Yankee” Monday morning, the second highest out of four. The term, in U.S. Coast Guard parlance, indicates the possibility of gale-force winds entering the bay in the next 24 hours. Next up is “Zulu,” indicating gale-force winds within 12 hours.
Since Friday, the port has received daily briefings tailored for the Tampa Bay region from the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
The Port Heavy Weather Advisory Group, made up of local maritime entities, began to make arrangements for vessel traffic over the weekend. Ships larger than 500 tons are prohibited from entering the port, and those in Tampa are queuing up to depart, according to a Sunday media release.
“Most of the vessels that were set to enter the port have made alternative arrangements and most of the vessels that were here already have left,” port spokesperson Lisa Wolf-Chason said in an interview early Monday afternoon.
“A lot of fuel tankers have already made their departure because they were already able to come in and offload,” she said. “So we should be in a good spot with fuel imports.”
While vessel operations have largely ceased, port staff will remain present to ensure the safety and security of Port Tampa Bay continues throughout Ian, she added.
Port Tampa Bay, which is the state’s largest port in terms of cargo tonnage, hosted its 10th annual Hurricane Preparedness Tabletop Exercise in late May. The event is held with the National Weather Service and brings together port staff with external partners, including the United States Coast Guard, Customs, Border and Protection, Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, CSX Railroad, various tug companies and port tenants to talk through a response to a severe storm.
“One of the most important things any Floridian does each year is prepare for hurricane season and our port prides ourselves on emergency preparedness,” Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay president and CEO, said in a news release announcing the event earlier this year. “We help our community following severe storms by remaining operational to move fuel and cargo from ship to store.”
The port is also preparing its underwater sonar scanning systems for possible use by the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers after Hurricane Ian passes.
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