LA ports monitor hurricanes' impacts on maritime industry, neighboring ports

LA ports monitor hurricanes' impacts on maritime industry, neighboring ports

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - This hurricane season is giving the maritime industry a lot of breathing room.

First, Hurricane Harvey shuttered ports in Texas, and now Irma is threatening to affect a number of others. Ports in Louisiana are paying attention.

"Miami-Dade County, Florida, beginning Friday at noon, all commercial vessels, including cruise and cargo, will depart our port and we will close Port Miami beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday," said Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Experts in New Orleans said the impact could stretch beyond Florida.

"Miami, the Port of Miami, the Port of Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Port Canaveral, Port of Jacksonville, Port of Savannah, Port of Charleston, Port of Wilmington, Port of Norfolk - all are going to be potentially affected, and even other points north of there, Boston, New York," said Gary LaGrange, executive director of the Ports Association of Louisiana.

Irma follows Harvey's devastation, which sidelined ports west of Louisiana in Texas. That caused the Port of New Orleans to put out a welcome mat for a cruise ships affected by Harvey.

"If they can ride out the storm, they usually choose to. With Harvey, it was much different because they were trying to get to Galveston. The storm stayed over Galveston for so long they actually came in here to get supplies to go back out to sea and wait. We don't really expect any impact with this storm because it's going off to the East Coast and will move very quickly," said Robert Landry, vice president and chief commercial officer at the Port of New Orleans.

Fortunately, Southwest Louisiana ports close to Texas were minimally impacted by Harvey. Still, ports in the state watch to see if they will have to pick up some of the slack from ports that will be affected by Irma.

"Yeah, all ports do. The areas that are not affected quite naturally do pick up the slack, but that slack is very minimal and on an interim basis. Remember, that cargo goes where the people are, where the consumers are because the cargo wants to be purchased and consumed by the people. So Houston as an example their consumption is the state of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The Port of New Orleans market area is all of mid-America, 31 states, so where the diversion from Houston may affect would probably be an effect to Mobile and New Orleans, and those two ports would benefit on a short-term basis only," LaGrange said.

"Irma appears to be a very fast-moving storm, so what will happen is ships will probably ride out the storm in open waters, and once the storm has passed the port, they'll go into their designated port. We might see one or two ships that as a result of that, but it's very unlikely in the case of Irma," said Landry.

And with all that is happening affecting ports and maritime activities experts said it is not out of the question for some products and goods to see an increase in the price of certain goods and products.

"Law of supply and demand will dictate that. If the supplies are not coming in and reaching the shelves for the consumers, the prices naturally are going to escalate over a period of time. The question is how quickly those ports can close the gap, reopen and get the goods to market, back on the shelves for the consumers," said LaGrange.

"There could be some short-term disruptions. Most of the materials we handle there are supplies, so whether it's non-perish metals, or steel products, most companies we deal with do have an inventory system which allows for some disturbances. If it goes on for too long then it would become an issue," said Landry.

The Port of New Orleans leads the country in importing natural rubber.

"We have a lot of base materials that come through the Panama Canal, natural rubber, steel, forest products, those come through the Panama Canal, those would be the commodities that would most likely be impacted, especially something like rubber, we're the largest rubber port in the United States so we have this store of rubber here and if that supply chain is disrupted it could impact the production of tires and other materials," Landry said.

In the meantime, Katia, is now a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

"We have a hurricane plan that we follow anytime there's  a tropical disturbance, right now, we're just in a monitoring phase, we're making sure we're tracking the storm," said Landry.

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