Coast Guard monitoring backlog of container ships at Puget Sound Anchorages
Puget Sound anchorages are filling up.
The U.S. Coast Guard said this week it was monitoring a backlog of container ships anchored in the greater Puget Sound area as ports along the west coast of the United States and Canada from Los Angeles to Prince Rupert in British Columbia continue to be strained by high import volumes. .
This unprecedented backlog has resulted in more ships, especially container ships, using moorings in Puget Sound, home to the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
As of September 23, the Coast Guard reported that 8 container ships were anchored at the five designated anchorages in Puget Sound, including Holmes Harbor, Bellingham Bay, Port Gardner, Eliott Bay West and Yukon Harbor. All except Bellingham Bay and Yukon Harbor are filled to capacity.
“The Salish Sea and Puget Sound are blessed with deep waters. This helps us avoid the disaster of stranded ships with potential oil pollution, ”said Laird Hail, director of the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service. “However, the deep water limits the number of locations we can use for anchorages. Container ships have gotten bigger since some of our anchorages were established and as a result many anchorages are no longer suitable for these vessels.
Holmes Harbor, off Whidbey Island, is one such location which, although designated as a Federal Anchorage, is generally unused and yet currently filled to capacity (with the 4 locations out of 4 used) due to a lack of available capacity elsewhere. Other anchorages, such as Bellingham Bay and Port Gardner, are experiencing similar demand.
“Holmes Harbor is off the beaten track requiring longer trips for ship pilots and is further away from the ships’ final destination,” Hail said. “We have only used Holmes Harbor once before on a similar basis in the past 15-20 years, and that was during the 2014-2015 downturn caused by labor disputes resulting in a similar backup. As soon as the traffic jams resolve where there is no need to use Holmes Harbor, we will revert to using it only as an overflow location. “
The high volume of ships even surprises the locals, and in some cases causes a nuisance. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound reports receiving a number of reports of excessive noise and lighting from vessels anchored at various anchorages in the area. Ships do not run their propulsion engines unless there is too much wind (gales and more) and must use propulsion to avoid dragging the anchor. The low noise reports are likely due to the generators, which container ships have to use to generate electricity.
To limit light pollution, ships should also not use bright halogen lamps or a similar type. Deck lights are however necessary for personnel safety. Pilots discuss the use of lighting before leaving the ship, and the Coast Guard broadcasts a nighttime radio broadcast (approximately half an hour after sunset) to remind ships to use minimal lighting .
The Puget Sound Coast Guard Sector is working closely with Puget Sound pilots to review the criteria that determine which vessels can use specific anchorages. The Coast Guard relies on the expertise of pilots in handling ships and their knowledge of the constraints of each anchorage to better manage their use.
Efforts continue to manage the influx of ships. The Harbor Master encourages container ship stakeholders such as the Northwest Seaport Alliance, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, the Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma and terminal operators to develop new queuing processes. waiting for container ships in order to efficiently manage ship arrivals and reduce the demand and load on the anchorages.