After a damaging storm, ports will only operate when it is safe for navigation.
When a hurricane hits, the U.S. Coast Guard calls on NOAA navigation response teams to conduct emergency hydrographic services—to map the ocean floor for hidden debris or shoaling that might pose a danger to navigation. Their work is essential to speeding the re-opening of ports and waterways.
According to the Office of Coast Survey, the faster NOAA teams can notify USCG of its findings, the faster the ports can re-open and resume shipping—allowing goods and services to enter.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on September 21, 2017, wreaking havoc on the infrastructure of many critical ports—and preventing vessels with critical fuel supplies and commodities from entering safely.
On September 23, NOAA’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST)—which can set up equipment and manpower quickly on a vessel of opportunity—arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to conduct emergency hydrographic surveys in the Port of Arecibo, an important fuel and chemical port.
On September 24, while the MIST was conducting its emergency surveys, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson—a hydrographic survey vessel that maps the ocean—departed Port Everglades, Florida, for San Juan. Upon its arrival on September 28, Thomas Jefferson deployed its launches and delivered supplies to NOAA’s National Weather Service at the USCG small boat pier.
But Thomas Jefferson’s mission didn’t stop there. The ship was also tasked with the following duties:
- Providing equipment needed to repair the NOAA tide gauge station in San Juan
- Traveling to Ponce, a large city on Puerto Rico’s southern coast, to deploy launches to survey the deep draft channel—a crucial step to re-opening the port
- Performing a complete side scan sonar survey to locate a crane that was potentially knocked into the water during the storm and to check for any other obstructions in the channel and port
- Conducting additional survey operations, based on USCG priority, to help re-open ports from Puerto Rico to St. Croix
- Conducting surveys to update charts in the affected areas
“NOAA is really proud that the Thomas Jefferson has arrived in Puerto Rico to help the United States Coast Guard and the local port authorities to restore the full capacity of the island’s sea ports,” said Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “The people of Puerto Rico need the transportation infrastructure restored to bring relief to the stricken and rebuild their lives after this tragic storm.”