Port closures from Hurricane Lane to disrupt cargo operations for at least 7 days

HONOLULU (KHON2) - Hurricane Lane has triggered port closures that will disrupt cargo for days, meaning whatever supplies are in warehouses and on shelves may be it for now.

Closing the ports, waiting out the storm, then phasing in an orderly return is expected to mean about a week pause in the normal flow of goods and food being restocked, and a few days longer for the neighbor islands since all cargo is offloaded in Honolulu first.

The state has told all the big ships in Hawaii's biggest ports get ready to get out.

"Harbor notices have been sent out to all vessels that they need to vacate prior to the storm unless they have written authorization or for an exemption,” Gov. David Ige explained.

KHON2 found out from the State Harbors Division that there's an anticipated closure of 11 a.m. Thursday for Hawaii's only container-crane cargo port: Honolulu Harbor.

“We're looking at disruption of at least a week,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Hawaii Shippers Council. “That is best-case scenario.”

Worst case, Hansen says, is weeks without resupplies.

“If we have any damage to the harbor facilities, if the hurricane comes closer and especially if the hurricane were to come ashore on the south coast of Oahu island in the area of Honolulu Harbor and the airport,” Hansen said, “we're looking at, especially with a storm surge, potentially substantial damage. If that were to occur there would be a longer disruption. That would involve a much larger effort, and that 14 days that the state has been talking about (for minimum emergency supply kits), we will go far beyond that.”

The port closure cutoff times still could change if the storm slows down or speeds up, but no matter what, the U.S. Coast Guard mandates closure of commercial ports when winds above 39 mph are expected within 12 hours, and until the storm has passed and is no longer a threat.

"This is because harbors are our lifeline to essential food and products,” Ige said. “We don't want a vessel being sunk in the harbor which would limit access for important shipments that we need to receive."

Harbors on the Big Island and Maui had rolling closures set for Wednesday. Kauai's closure is slated to follow after Oahu, so by Thursday night. But it's the Honolulu Harbor closure that makes the biggest impact on the week's pause in resupplying our food, drinks and goods.

“The only container cranes that we have in the Hawaiian Islands are located on Sand Island in Honolulu Harbor,” Hansen said.

If the crane operations at Honolulu Harbor are damaged, “at that point we would need a Jones Act waiver and lots of assistance to start moving cargo in (on ships that carry their own offloading cranes),” Hansen explained. “There are no Jones Act eligible vessels that have their own cargo gear that could be available for this.”

Assuming ships are returning to damage-free ports, the estimated one-week cargo backlog is just Oahu. It could be a few more days wait for neighbor island resupplies.

“That cargo is first discharged from the mainline ships from Honolulu Harbor, and any cargo for the neighbor islands is transshipped on local barges,” Hansen said. “So the whole state will face that disruption."

KHON2 asked, are stores and wholesalers and suppliers stocked well enough to weather this?

“I can't answer that question, but everyone in Hawaii is operating on just-in-time inventory and they depend upon that regular arrival of the container ships and availability of the container cargo in order to keep merchandise on their shelves,” Hansen said.

We asked, what happens if there is a boat full of cargo coming into us that hasn't offloaded by the time of the closure?

"I would expect most of the ships to move to the northeast to avoid the storm,” Hansen said, “and then after the Coast Guard gives the order for the return of vessels, the reopening of the port, then you'll have to have an orderly pattern of vessels coming back."

It cannot be a free-for-all at that point.

“The ones that were in port and ordered out have to be completed first,” Hansen said, “and then the other ships to follow, so we're looking at at least a week of delay."



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