NOAA’s newest survey ship, the Ferdinand R. Hassler, began survey operations today in support of the U.S. Coast Guard efforts to re-open the Port of Virginia. Hassler was in port at NOAA’s Marine Operations Center – Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia, for maintenance when Hurricane Sandy affected the area. The ship’s crew spent Monday completing the work and system tests necessary to get underway once the storm passed, and has now been returned to limited operational status.
Lt. Cmdr. Ben Evans, Hassler’s commanding officer, got the ship underway today (Tuesday), and will return Wednesday evening. The Coast Guard Captain of the Port for Hampton Roads requested that the ship survey critical portions of Thimble Shoal Channel and Chesapeake Channel, the deep draft routes to the ports of Hampton Roads and Baltimore.
“Surveying the deepest draft channels will allow the Coast Guard to decide when to re-open the port to unrestricted traffic without unnecessary delay,” Evans explained. “The ports of the Chesapeake Bay are critical to the U.S. economy and national security, so we need to make this effort as soon as the ship is ready to sail.”
The need for hydrographic surveying is critical. There are 78 large vessels, including portions of the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, waiting to transit through the entrance to Chesapeake Bay.
The Hassler was also a pivotal survey asset last year, as Hampton Roads resumed operations after Hurricane Irene. At that time, Hassler was one of the three NOAA survey vessels used to clear the port from dangers caused by underwater debris or shoaling. Their work enabled a rapid resumption of shipping and port operations in 2011.
“Delays in shipping, even minor ones, cost the economy millions each year,” explained Rear Admiral Gerd Glang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “After Hurricane Irene last year, NOAA’s rapid maritime response paid dividends in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, where an average of $5 million worth of cargo is shipped in or out, every hour. This year, rapid response is just as critical.”
The Norfolk Custom District is the country’s 9th largest in terms of the value of total imports and exports moving through the port, with nearly $55 billion in total trade in 2011.
*** Learn more about how NOAA’s National Ocean Service responds to hurricanes.