Hurricane Harvey’s Impact on Houston Vessel Arrivals

Hurricane Harvey disrupted operations at the port of Houston for about six days, from August 24 to August 30, 2017. While port condition “Recovery” was established during the afternoon of August 30 and almost-regular vessel arrivals resumed on September 4, draft restrictions remain in place until sunken obstructions at several locations along the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) have been removed and emergency channel dredging can be completed. One of the key obstructions, a sunken drydock near the Turning Basin, was not moved out of the channel enough to permit the remaining City Docks to open until September 30.

From 2012 to 2016, Houston vessel arrivals averaged 8,337 ships a year, 695 ships a month, or about 24 ships a day. These values have remained relatively stable during the 5-year period moving within a narrow range of 151 ships or 1.9% between the low point of 8,224 ships arriving during 2016 to a high point of 8,379 ships arriving just one year earlier in 2015. These annual low and high values translate to average monthly vessel arrivals of 691 ships a month in 2016 to 698 ships arriving during 2015.

January through July of 2017 matched the 5-year annual average almost exactly. However, Hurricane Harvey disrupted that stability by causing a month-to-month reduction of 151 vessel arrivals, or about a 21% decline, between July and August.

Fortunately, some of the vessels due in Houston during the closure were able to enter port in the first days of September. The combined vessel arrivals for August and September were only about 8.3%, or 116 arrivals, below forecasted, and actual year-to-date 2017 is 1.7% behind 2016. The vessel arrivals by day graph shows the complete lack of arrivals during the closure at the end of August and the surge of arrivals at the beginning of September.

Arrivals by vessel type do not show an obvious break in pattern pre- and post-hurricane. Year-to-date arrivals for tankers, which have the most noticeable decline, fell by less than half a point beyond the trend already showing in July. Container vessels have shown a small decline – less than two percent year-to-date – however, TEUs handled over the same time frame increased from 1.46 million TEUs last year to 1.6 million this year. For more details on how vessel arrivals have fared this year, turn to page 4 to read the Port Watch written by Port Bureau board member Tom Marian from Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

Houston, along with the other ports along the Gulf of Mexico, showed their resiliency this year. While vessel arrivals alone cannot tell the entire story of the economic loss and subsequent rebound, nonetheless, these data help demonstrate the ability of industry and public agencies to restart vessel movements quickly following a devastating weather event. This is an example of the local maritime community working together for the benefit of all.


  • Date October 25, 2017
  • Tags October 2017