Landside operations like delivering local goods will continue until it has been deemed unsafe.
Area ports are now operating within port condition Zulu after the U.S. Coast Guard decided that gale force winds of 34-47 knots were possible within 12 hours. Water and landside operations have ceased and will stay that way until it is safe to reopen.
This article was updated Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 12:45 p.m. to reflect that ports in the area officially entered port condition Zulu on Tuesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard closed inbound ship traffic Monday with the possibility of gale force winds reaching 34 to 47 knots within 24 hours due to the looming Hurricane Ian.
The port condition, named “Yankee,” was declared effective for the Port of Tampa, SeaPort Manatee, Port St. Pete and Lee County Port Authority. The alert also means that cargo operations that aren’t associated with storm preparations aren’t allowed at the moment.
Carlos Buqueras, SeaPort Manatee executive director, expects the hurricane condition to update to “Zulu” sometime tomorrow. When that happens, the waterfront operations and vessel movements will cease to operate.
As of right now, Buqueras says it’s the “quiet before the storm.” The port has two ships currently docked that have been given exit orders to leave this afternoon or early evening. Before Yankee was declared, SeaPort Manatee had seven or eight ships in route that had to be turned away. Buqueras says those ships have several options while waiting for the storm to clear, including circling around in the open sea or docking at nearby ports that are out of the storm’s path.
At the moment, cargo like fruits and lumber will continue to be delivered as long as it is safe to do so. The most critical operation in times like these are making sure grocery stores are still getting bananas, Buqueras says.
Bananas are quite possibly the “most sought after food,” he says. Almost anyone can eat them, from babies to grandparents. Plus the fruit requires no refrigeration. Luckily, SeaPort Manatee has no shortage of bananas.
The port has over a billion bananas coming in with its contract with Del Monte. And now that number has shot up since the port signed a contract with Chiquita Banana about six months ago.
As for fuel, Buqueras believes the port is in ample supply.
After the storm has passed, the United States Army and Coast Guard will survey the channel for debris or anything that’s blocking it before allowing operations to open again. Once the port has been given the green light, Buqueras says it will be up and running again in just a matter of hours, which is exactly how quickly operations resumed after Hurricane Irma hit in 2017.
As for how long the port could be closed for, it will depend on how quickly the storm moves out of the area. The coast guard warned drawbridges in the area could close as early as eight hours before sustained gale force winds are anticipated to arrive.