Port Watch-Hoovering Harvey Humbles Houston

By Tom Marian, Buffalo Marine Service, Inc.

In the world of maritime commerce, August ended several days early as the Captains of the Port along the Texas coast secured ports from Corpus Christi to Port Arthur in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey. Consequently, with a week left in the month, maritime commerce came to a standstill as ocean-going vessels fled Harvey’s path and inland tows hunkered down as far from the coast as possible. Unfortunately, Hurricane Harvey overstayed its welcome in Texas and dumped trillions of gallons of rain causing the worst flooding event in the state’s history. When all was said and done, tens of thousands of families were displaced; nearly a half million cars succumbed to rising waters; and vessels were in a holding pattern for over a week. Perhaps the best way to summarize things is that everything was in the negatives for the month – save Brownsville which saw a 20% increase.

The initial ground zero for Harvey was Corpus Christi. Two days prior to Harvey’s landfall to the northeast of the port, vessel arrivals ceased. Ultimately, Corpus Christi saw 23% fewer vessel arrivals but – on a positive note – the year-to-date numbers were to the good by nearly 2%. Freeport is the only other port that remained ahead of last year’s pace to the tune of 14% even after a reciprocal performance for the month. That is, a 14% drop. Galveston’s monthly wane was not too far behind Freeport’s at 14%. Galveston, unlike Freeport, still lags last year’s arrival numbers by 4%. Texas City’s arrival statistics were more of the same as its sister port’s with a 16% fall for the month and a year-to-date portfolio that trails last years by almost 8%. In fact, all of these ports recorded their lowest arrival numbers for the year

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The downgraded version of Harvey – Tropical Storm Harvey – did not meander into the Sabine port complex until nearly four days after its initial landfall in Rockport, Texas. The port handled 16.5% less arrivals. Yet, it is only 2% off of last year’s pace. Hopefully, a September rebound will push the port into the black for the year. Harvey’s prolonged torrential rains created even more havoc to the inland tows that rely upon the intercoastal waterway. Tow activity across the Texas portion of this waterway plummeted 36% in August and has fallen behind 2016’s numbers by 6%. In fact, 5 weeks after Harvey’s assault upon the region, portions of the intercoastal waterway still have draft restrictions and may not be at project depth until November.

Indeed, Harvey was anything but your typical hurricane. Generally, once a hurricane makes landfall it is swept up by the jet stream and ushered towards the east coast. Thus, within a day or two of its passing, the impacted port will gradually reopen for business while the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers diligently work to validate channel depths and restore aids to navigation. Not so with Hurricane Harvey and its Tropical Storm variant. The Port of Houston lost no less than a week of activity. This manifested itself in a monthly vessel arrival number that has not been seen in over a decade resulting in a 21% fall and nearly 3% drop in its year-to-year performance. No vessel category was immune as the terminals and docks that lined the ship channel resembled a port under quarantine where not a single vessel was permitted to enter or depart. Worse yet, as dozens of flooded watersheds surged into the bayous that empty into the Houston Ship Channel, one of the busiest nation’s waterways became one of the most treacherous. Hence, containers, cars, chemicals and a host of other commodities went undelivered.


Thankfully, despite the adversity wrought by Harvey, the outpouring of generosity softened its blow and instilled a sense of hope that – despite all that was lost to the rising flood waters – homes will be rebuilt and routines will be restored. One can already see signs of this as the millions of tons of storm debris is being removed; car dealerships are selling cars at a pace never seen before; and retail stores prepare for a buying binge that will rival Christmas when insurance money surges into the local economy. Mind you, it is not the forthcoming spending spree that characterizes Harvey’s legacy; rather, it is the untold acts of kindness of neighbor helping neighbor and stranger lending a hand to stranger when so many were in dire need. It is those acts that make Texas and our nation a shining symbol for the rest of the world to witness and emulate.

  • Date October 25, 2017
  • Tags October 2017