FILE PHOTO: Container ships wait off the coast of the congested ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, in Long Beach, California, U.S., September 29, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

High Winds Expected at Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach Anchorages and Holding Areas

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 2639
October 25, 2021

The bomb cyclone that has impacted the Pacific Northwest since Sunday has made its way to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where close to a record number of ships are backed up in anchorages and holding areas.

The U.S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach is encouraging drifting commercial ships in holding areas to “proceed under power” prior to the arrival of a wind event forecasted for today and tomorrow.

Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin on Monday with a Heavy Weather Advisory and guidance for ships during severe high wind events that are likely to become more frequent in the fall and winter. The bulletin comes as close to a record number of ships are currently at anchor or drifting in holding areas outside the San Pedro Bay Port complex, home to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach which handle approximately 40% of imported containers into the United States.

The safety bulletin addresses the safety and security of ships within the LA-LB Captain of the Port Zone, including the approaches to the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Port Hueneme, ahead of the severe wind event forecasted for later today.

“In order to ensure the safe navigation of all vessels, the Captain of the Port encourages all commercial vessels greater than 1600 gross tons that are underway, not making way, to proceed under power prior to the forecasted weather,” the safety bulletin reads. The “underway, not making way” would include ships drifting in designated holding areas.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California, which provides Vessel Traffic Services for the area, reported today that there are 56 ships at anchor and another 51 in holding areas within 40 miles of the ports, including 30 containerships at anchor and 43 in holdings areas.

An update last Friday from the Marine Exchange requested that ships at anchor and in holding areas should voluntarily go to sea before today’s wind event so they can space themselves out. While Monday’s safety bulletin from the Captain of the Port does not explicitly request that drifting vessels in holding areas should proceed to sea, it does remind vessels of their obligations, whether expressly or implied, during severe high wind events while in the COTP Zone.

For anchored vessels:

When wind speed (including wind gusts) exceeds 35 knots forecasted and or observed, all anchored commercial vessel greater than 1600 gross tons shall ensure:

a. That a second anchor, if installed, is made ready to let go,
b. That their propulsion plant is placed in immediate standby,
c. That the vessel is not dragging anchor.

For vessels in holding/drift areas:

When wind speed (including wind gusts) exceeds 30 knots, the Captain of the Port strongly recommends that all commercial vessels greater than 1600 gross tons that are underway, not making way, shall:

a. Have their propulsion plan in immediate standby,
b. Remain great than two nautical miles from other vessels at all times,
c. Remain greater than two nautical miles from traffic lanes, shoal water, and shore.

The screen capture below from MarineTraffic.com’s dashboard shows cargo ships at anchor and in holdings areas off the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as of early Monday afternoon.

Screen shot from 12:47 p.m. PT, October 25, 2021. Courtesy MarineTraffic.com

The weather system today and Tuesday is part of the “bomb cyclone” and atmospheric river that has been impacting the U.S. West Coast since Sunday. According to the National Weather Service, the system’s minimum central pressure dropped to 942.5 mb on Sunday, the lowest pressure ever recorded off the Pacific Northwest.

For Monday, the National Weather Service has issued a Small Craft Advisory in effect through late tonight for the coastal waters from Point Mugu to San Mateo Point, which includes the San Pedro Bay port area, as well as Santa Catalina Island. The area tonight should see winds of 15 to 25 knots with gusts to 30 knots (34.5 mph) and combined seas 7 to 9 feet.

“Synopsis for the southern California coast and Santa Barbara Channel including the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and National Park…at 16Z, or 9 AM PDT, a 969 MB low was 300 NM NW of Seattle, with a cold front pushing through the coastal waters. This storm system will bring a period of gusty south winds and steep seas everywhere today, with a very large west to northwest swell forming today through Tuesday,” the NWS said in its 9:18 a.m. PDT Coastal Waters Forecast.

The same weather system is responsible for complicating the salvage and firefighting on board ZIM Kingston, at anchor in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Victoria, B.C., following a fire after the ship lost some 40 containers at sea sometime late Thursday or early Friday. While the fire has been reported as stable, a hazardous materials team expected to board the ship on Monday have been unable to because of the weather.

Safety concerns regarding the backlog of ships at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have been heightened in recent weeks following this month’s oil spill which investigators now believe could be related to an anchor dragging incident during a severe wind event all the way back on January 25, 2021. During that storm, about half of the ships at anchor (24 in total) raised anchor and went to sea to ride out the storm.

The full Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach Marine Safety Information Bulletin with the “Heavy Weather Advisory” can be viewed here.

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