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            september 22, 2019

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Now 1,100-foot ships need permission to enter Port of Houston


Vessels exceeding 1,100 feet in length are now not permitted to enter the lower Houston ship channel without prior consent from a newly established board of pilot commissioners.
This amendment gives the Houston Pilots, the arbiters of ship traffic and safety in the channel, independent authority to introduce traffic rules for ships, if at least 80 per cent of pilots that operate under the pilot board's jurisdiction recommend them and they minimise interruptions to two-way traffic.
That means they can implement traffic rules without authorisation from the Houston Port Commission, which had overseen the pilots, reported Platts McGraw Hill Financial, New York.
The Houston Pilots finalised the updated navigation safety guidelines for the channel due to an impasse between port officials and companies that handle tankers carrying crude oil, refined products, liquid chemicals and other products when those larger containerships started interrupting two-way traffic a year ago.
In August 2018, the first-ever containership to exceed 1,100 feet in length entered the 23-mile stretch between the entrance of the channel near Texas City and the port's two container terminals, which are businesses controlled by the port.
Vessels that move in and out of the 530-mile-wide channel typically do so freely, veering around each other in orchestrated moves overseen by the Houston Pilots known as the "Texas Chicken" in a waterway otherwise too narrow to accommodate traditional two-way traffic.
However, the pilots determined that tankers could not safely veer around those larger box ships, which essentially became 54 per cent wider when veering.
That meant other ships could not move through that 23-mile stretch until the larger containership had docked or exited the channel. Those holdups could last 10 hours or more as customers racked up demurrage costs and other charges for sitting idle.
According to the Houston Pilots, a channel at least 750-800 feet wide would be able to accommodate larger containerships and tankers, but it would cost billions of dollars and require the US Congress to provide federal funds, which can take years, if not decades.

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