Hawaii island battened down its commercial harbors in Hilo and Kawaihae on Wednesday in advance of expected tropical-storm force — or worse — winds from the approaching Hurricane Lane.
The U.S. Coast Guard ordered the closures with an alert level “zulu” and announced that all other commercial ports in the state were at one alert level below closure status, which means all large ships and barges must be preparing to leave.
One exemption was made Wednesday for a Matson containership that was allowed to enter Honolulu Harbor around 4 p.m. Company spokesman Keoni Wagner said the ship will be unloaded throughout the night and must leave by 6 a.m. today.
The Coast Guard also allowed Pasha Hawaii Transport Lines to partially unload a containership that also arrived Wednesday in Honolulu. This ship will leave this morning to wait in a safe place at sea before returning, possibly on Saturday, to finish unloading.
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Hawaii’s commercial harbors are critical for keeping the state supplied with food and other essential goods, and harbor officials say keeping the ports clear during a dangerous storm helps minimize potential damage.
“Mariners are reminded that our facilities and ports are safest when the inventory of vessels is at a minimum,” the Coast Guard said in its port status update Wednesday.
The state estimates that 80 percent of all goods consumed in Hawaii are imported, and 98 percent of that comes by ship.
Interisland cargo transportation company Young Brothers Ltd. on Wednesday ceased accepting cargo at any ports and canceled scheduled sailings through Saturday for destinations on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.
Some commercial ports also allow pleasure boats, and the Coast Guard ordered owners of these vessels to seek sheltered waters.
Meanwhile, at state-run small-boat harbors, where some people live on board or keep their fishing, sailing and charter boats, many vessel owners were busy preparing their boats by doubling up mooring lines, taking down awnings, wrapping up sails and more.
“It’s going to be ugly,” said boater Sonya Sinclair. “How ugly is the question.”
Sinclair and Phil Grillo live on a 32-foot Bayliner at the Ala Wai Small Boat Harbor. Among other preparations they were making Wednesday was taking photos of the boat in case they have to make an insurance claim.
Sinclair and Grillo said they plan to stay on the boat as long as possible so they can adjust lines for a storm surge. But if conditions get too bad, they said they will drive to an emergency shelter.
“You do what you can and hope for the best,” Sinclair said.
“You hope (the hurricane) turns west,” added Grillo.
Stephen Walker, operator of the charter catamaran Hawaiian Style, planned to stay on his boat overnight to make storm-surge adjustments although he had contemplated taking the vessel out to a safe place in the ocean to avoid the storm.
Walker said he thinks Lane will stay far enough south not to wreak havoc, and that if the forecast was for Lane to make a direct hit on Oahu he would have sailed northeast between Oahu and Molokai to get out of the way.
“Getting away from the storm is the best option,” he said.
Hawaii has more than a dozen small-boat harbors overseen by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The agency said on Tuesday that no closures are planned for the harbors, and advised boaters to make sure their vessels are secure.
These harbors include the Ala Wai in Waikiki and harbors in Keehi Lagoon, Waianae, Haleiwa and Heeia-Kea on Oahu; Keauhou, Kailua-Kona and Honokohau on Hawaii island, Lahaina and Maalaea on Maui; Manele on Lanai; Kaunakakai and Hale O Lono on Molokai; and Kikiaola, Port Allen and Kukuiula on Kauai.