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Ports of Savannah, Brunswick prepare to batten down hatches

  • Georgia Ports Authority is making plans to secure its cranes, containers and other equipment ahead of Hurricane Irma. The latest forecasts Wednesday put the storm near Savannah Tuesday afternoon. (GPA photo)

With the spectre of a large hurricane on the horizon, Georgia Ports Authority has begun putting its preliminary plans in motion to secure the country’s fourth largest port against the threat of high winds and water.

“We’re lining up our communications and identifying our critical workforce,” GPA executive director Griff Lynch said Wednesday. “We should know something more definitive Thursdy afternoon or early Friday.

“Right now, we’re pretty certain we will continue normal operations through Friday and maybe beyond. But that will be up to the Coast Guard — and Irma.”

The storm also could affect the arrival of the next big neopanamax ship.

The 14,000-TEU John Adams, due in Friday and scheduled to begin operations at 7 p.m., is now questionable, GPA spokesman Robert Morris said late Wednesday.

Lynch said it was his understanding that, based on the storm’s current path and speed, the Port of Brunswick could experience hurricane force winds Monday night into early Tuesday morning, while Savannah could see the same Tuesday afternoon.

“Our plan right now is to continue preparations, get through Friday and see where we are and what needs to be done on Saturday,” he said.

For example, each of Garden City Terminal’s 26 ship-to-shore cranes will need to be tied down, a task that will take approximately half a day. Moveable equipment will need to be repositioned where possible and containers will need to be repositioned, with empties — the most likely to be tossed around in high winds — block stored in groups for better protection.

Diesel power generators have to be in place should the ports lose electric power to the more than 100 “reefer racks” that keep refrigerated cargo cold on terminal. Garden City Terminal has the capacity to power some 3,000 refrigerated boxes, more than any other port on the East Coast.

“And we’re readying our remote data center should we have to evacuate the terminal,” Lynch said, adding that, although the cone of uncertainty is massive, Irma is a strong and dangerous storm.

“We have to treat this as if it is coming,” he said.

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