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Coast Guard to close port, with restrictions, anticipating more than a foot of snow

By ROBERT MCCABE | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 7, 2017

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A big snowstorm isn’t the only thing bearing down on Hampton Roads.

About 20 container ships were scheduled to call on the local port this weekend – but some of them apparently are going to have to wait.

The Coast Guard said it will close the port, with some restrictions, early Saturday morning, in anticipation of the storm.

“Commercial vessels will be prohibited from entering and departing the Chesapeake Bay,” the Coast Guard said in a statement. “Additionally, movement within the Port of Virginia will be closed to vessel traffic 5,000 gross tons or greater unless permission is granted by the Captain of the Port.”

Snow and wind are anticipated to create hazardous conditions in the region, including zero visibility for those on shore and on the water, the Coast Guard said.

As of midafternoon Friday, the Coast Guard was expecting up to 14 inches of snow over a relatively short period of time.

The snow is expected to come with winds of nearly 40 mph and accumulation of about 2 inches of snow an hour, equivalent to “white-out” conditions, said Capt. Kevin Carroll, deputy commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, in an interview.

That would make it very difficult for Coast Guard units to get under way to offer help to any mariners who might need it.

“There is a real danger to all vessels on the water,” Carroll said in the Coast Guard statement. “Recreational vessels and casual boaters are at a greater risk during winter storm conditions. Do not make plans to get under way, wait for the hazardous conditions to pass.”

The biggest container ship expected this weekend – the CMA CGM Rhone – pulled into Virginia International Gateway in Portsmouth about noon Friday.

The two-year-old container ship is nearly three times the length of – and about the same width as – a football field and can carry roughly 9,400 containers, as measured in 20-foot units or TEUs.

Another ship with about the same capacity – the Axel Maersk – was scheduled to call at the port later Friday and as of early afternoon was still at sea off the Virginia Beach coast.

“As we speak, it’s business as usual,” said Joe Harris, a port spokesman early Friday afternoon. “We’re working ships per normal. In parallel, we’re also getting ready for a storm.”

Carroll said that container ships affected by the storm would have “the option to divert,” though in most cases such vessels will “slow down, delay and loiter off the coast.”

Once restrictions are lifted – expected to be about 9 a.m. Sunday, depending on conditions – delayed ships will be entered into a queue as actual docking times are coordinated, he added.

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©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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Army vessels transit the Chesapeake Bay at Craney Island, Va., on Dec, 6, 2016. The Coast Guard said Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, that it would close ports in the Bay to incoming commercial ships on Saturday due to blizzard conditions along Virginia's Atlantic coastline.
BENJAMIN PARSONS/U.S. ARMY

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