NOAA helps Port Fourchon determine safe anchorage areas

Port officials around the country know they can rely on the expert advice of Coast Survey’s navigation managers, cartographic experts, and hydrographers as the ports plan the essential improvements necessary for a thriving maritime economy. One example of Coast Survey assistance is in Port Fourchon, Louisiana, where port officials have determined that the volume and density of vessels have reached a level that requires one or more offshore anchorage areas. Sending vessels to a designated anchorage reduces the population in port and provides a safe area for vessels to power down their engines (rather than hold in place offshore in dynamic positioning mode), which would improve both safety and efficiency in the area known as the “Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

Using nautical charts of the areas, Coast Survey provided a range of possible sites that helped port officials narrow their anchorage options. After navigation manager Tim Osborn worked with the officials, and with additional requirements in hand, Coast Survey cartographic expert Steve Soherr provided a digital graphic showing likely areas, with information that guards against pipeline and platform interference with safe anchorage.

As additional safeguards, hydrographic surveys will likely be needed to confirm that the seafloor of the recommended areas are free of hazards and do not have uncharted pipelines. Coast Survey will work with the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement as needed.

The port will bring its recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, who has the authority to designate the anchorages.

Port Fourchon potential anchorage areas
Cartographic adviser Steve Soherr, with Coast Survey’s Navigation Services Division, produced this graphic showing the lease blocks, pipelines, and platforms offshore of Fourchon and Belle Pass. Port officials and others will use the image to examine areas offshore that are both free of pipeline hazards and within the depth range required to accommodate offshore service vessels and the other fleets seen at Fourchon.

NOAA survey teams wrap up response to Hurricane Isaac, return to normal duties to protect ships and people

As Gulf ports in the path of Hurricane Isaac bring operations back up to normal, Coast Survey’s navigation response team has finished its hydrographic surveys at Port Fourchon and is heading back to its regularly scheduled 2012 survey of the sea floor in the Port of Houston and Galveston Bay navigational areas.

Port Fourchon started allowing ships to enter the port yesterday, after NRT4 found only minor shoaling and no underwater debris that would pose a danger to navigation.

NOAA surveys ports to keep navigation safe and efficient. As Coast Survey’s navigation response team was wrapping up its surveys of Port Fourchon and Belle Pass on August 31, the pilot of the multi-purpose supply vessel HOS Achiever, inbound, asked if they found any dangers to navigation. The team found minor shoaling but no hazards.

Upon receiving Coast Survey’s initial survey report yesterday, Port Fourchon executive director Chett Chiasson thanked the navigation response team and managers for support in this recovery. “Your immediate availability following the hurricane, being some of the “first” people in, goes above and beyond the call of duty,” he wrote. (See full text of Chiasson’s letter to NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, below.)

The navigation response teams and managers responded quickly, and under difficult circumstances, but we need to emphasize that they responded safely. Ensuring safety for NOAA response personnel is as high a priority as establishing safe conditions for the maritime transportation system.

The National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division used the NOAA King Air and the NOAA Twin Otter to gather imagery for the response to Isaac. The crews of NOAA remote sensing planes consist of two NOAA Corps pilots from the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, with NGS experts operating the sensors. (Images from the remote sensing survey are being posted to Hurricane ISAAC Response Imagery Viewer.)

Coast Survey’s navigation managers are returning to their stations in port areas across the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. They remain available, as always, to provide NOAA asset coordination and assistance to government officials, port representatives, pilots, and the maritime industry.

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Sent to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, August 31, 2012

Subject: Thank You to NOAA for the Service to the Nation and to the Gulf’s Energy Connection, Port Fourchon, Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac

Dr. Lubchenco:

I would like to recognize the huge effort of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey to respond in such a timely and critical way to our needs at Port Fourchon to respond to Hurricane Isaac and to recover our Port Operations as quickly as possible.

Every day, almost 30% of America’s supply and consumption of energy comes from the Gulf of Mexico. Port Fourchon is the single most important supply Port in the Gulf.  The preparations for a hurricane and recovery of the Port is critical to this Nation in re-establishing the supply of domestic energy from the Gulf.  Delays and loss of operations by the Port can have dramatic impacts to energy supply of this country and create large economic impacts throughout the United States.

The eye of Hurricane Isaac came directly over the Port and we saw widespread flooding throughout the area and of our only access road to the Port, Louisiana Highway LA-1.

The day the hurricane started to move from the area, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey Navigational Response Team arrived in our offices, discussed the needs of our Port and headed to the Port that morning.

NOAA’s Coast Survey Navigation Response Team was the first responders to arrive and reach Port Fourchon. They and our Harbor Police made it through flooded highways and arrived to start work before anyone else. They worked through yesterday and today surveying the entire Port and it’s Pass, Belle Pass and are now in our Operations Center processing the work and have been constantly updating me and our Port staff throughout.

With a very large hurricane and coastal impacts we saw, you quickly find out who are the real responders and partners with the Port and the Gulf. For us, it is NOAA and the Office of Coast Survey.

Our commendations and thanks to you and to the Office of Coast Survey. Their service to us and the Nation is truly exemplary.

Respectfully,

Chett

Chett C. Chiasson, MPA

Executive Director

Greater Lafourche Port Commission

NOAA navigation response team has a harrowing start to a successful afternoon of surveying at Port Fourchon

Coast Survey navigation response teams know the meaning of “rapid” in Rapid Maritime Response, as their ongoing response following Hurricane Isaac demonstrates.

As we explained in yesterday’s post (NOAA looks for dangers to navigation at Port Fourchon), getting a navigation response team (NRT) into the water at the port, to search for underwater debris and shoaling ‒ ASAP ‒ was Coast Survey’s highest priority. It was also a priority for port authorities, who know more than anyone how important it is to resume maritime operations quickly at “The Gulf’s Energy Connection.”

The 3-person survey team (team lead Nick Forfinski, with Luke Pavilonis and David McIntire), with navigation managers Tim Osborn and Alan Bunn, first had to move the boat (complete with state-of-the-art multibeam sonar and side scan sonar equipment) 163 miles from Lafayette to Port Fourchon. The team was the first group to drive down closed Highway 1, only preceded by a harbor police officer who wanted to make sure roads weren’t washed out. To travel the last segment of the storm-savaged highway, which was covered in places by nearly two feet of sideways-moving water, averting downed utility poles with hanging wires, the small Coast Survey caravan received a police escort by Port Fourchon Harbor Police.

The Coast Survey caravan, taking NRT4 to Port Fourchon on Thursday morning, had to drive through sections of Hwy 1 that were covered with up to two feet of moving water.  The caravan was escorted by the Port Fourchon Harbor Police.
The  caravan had to skirt downed utility lines and hanging wires on closed Highway 1, north of Galliano, as they traveled from Lafayette to Port Fourchon on Thursday morning.

As anyone who has ever driven through bad conditions can imagine, the team arrived at Port Fourchon tensed and tired. But that didn’t stop them. After consulting with port authorities, NRT4 launched their 28′ Sea Ark, put the side scan sonar in the water, switched on the multibeam, calibrated equipment, and started searching for dangers to navigation in the deserted waters around the docks. They also did a quick reconnaissance of Belle Pass (see NOAA chart 11346), where conditions were such that they weren’t able to continue operations. (They are returning to Belle Pass today.)

NRT4 used the multibeam echo sounder and the side scan sonar (pictured here) as they searched for underwater hazards at Port Fourchon on Aug 30.

Port officials need the data ‒ quickly ‒ from the hydrographic surveys, so NRT4 survey technicians worked until the early morning hours, processing the depth measurements and images they acquired yesterday afternoon.

Today, NRT4 will intensify their search for underwater debris and shoaling, to make sure that ships and mariners can navigate safely ‒ without damage to lives, equipment, or the environment ‒ when ships start returning after the Coast Guard Captain of the Port lifts port restrictions.

NOAA looks for danger to navigation at Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” helps port resume operations

A rapid maritime response by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey will likely pay dividends to the U.S. economy, as a high-tech survey team today began surveying the channels of Port Fourchon, the “Gulf’s Energy Connection,” to search for dangers to navigation caused by Hurricane Isaac.

Coast Survey’s navigation response team, in the water at Port Fourchon, started searching for underwater dangers to navigation today, speeding the resumption of shipping.

“Time literally means money for U.S. consumers when it comes to navigation through many of the Gulf of Mexico ports,” said Rear Adm. Gerd Glang, Office of Coast Survey director. “In this case, when a port can’t service offshore oil rigs, everyone — and most especially consumers — gets hit in the wallet.”

To help speed the resumption of maritime commerce following hurricanes and other disasters, Coast Survey deploys hydrographic survey assets for high priority port areas that need emergency assistance. Port Fourchon services about 90 percent of all deepwater oil rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also the host for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), which is the only port in the United States capable of handling Ultra Large Crude Carriers and Very Large Crude Carriers.

The Morgan City Captain of the Port, who has jurisdiction over Port Fourchon, anticipated they would need NOAA’s rapid maritime response as soon as conditions allowed boats in the water.

Hydrographic survey response priorities are set by U.S. Coast Guard Captains of the Port, coordinating with NOAA navigation managers who are working post-storm at Port Fourchon and NOAA’s new Disaster Response Center in Mobile. While NOAA hydrographers measure depths and look for underwater debris and other dangers to navigation, survey technicians process the data and send the information to the U.S. Coast Guard, who uses the information to make critical decisions on resuming port operations. After the Coast Survey navigation response team informs the Captain that no hidden dangers exist, the port can safely begin to resume shipping operations.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the Port Fourchon surveys should take about two days.

Days before Hurricane Isaac hit the U.S., Coast Survey mobilized assets and personnel, getting ready to respond to navigational needs of the ports slammed by the slow-moving, and drenching, hurricane. Navigation response teams, who normally survey ports and coastal areas to acquire modern data for updating nautical charts, were moved to Louisiana and Florida’s panhandle, so they could hit the water as soon as sea conditions allowed.

NOAA survey ship uses multibeam echo sounder
This image depicts a NOAA survey ship using its multibeam echo sounder to measure ocean depths.

The experienced 3-person navigation response team (team lead Nick Forfinski, with Luke Pavilonis and David McIntire) is using specially designed sonar equipment to conduct the surveys: the side scan sonar uses sound to “see” debris in the waterways, and the multibeam echo sounder uses high-resolution depth information to detect shoaling.

Ports are critical arteries for American commerce, with the maritime transportation system contributing more than $1 trillion to the national economy and providing employment for more than 13 million people. Just as a car accident can snarl traffic for miles, shipping delays can snarl both the maritime system and land-based shipping that feeds into the ports.