Coast Guard warns mariners of gale-force winds, though no major impact expected at port of Baltimore

With Hurricane Florence approaching the East Coast, the port of Baltimore and U.S. Coast Guard are keeping a close watch on conditions that could require ships to move out of the area or be pulled from the water to keep them and their crews safe.

For now, the port of Baltimore reports that it is operating as usual and not planning any operational changes over the next few days. But officials are communicating regularly with the Coast Guard and with port tenants, who also are monitoring the storm and securing cargo or hazards, said Richard Scher, a spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration.

The area Coast Guard captain of the port, who is the commander of the Maryland-National Capital Region, has declared condition “Whiskey,” which means gale-force winds are anticipated within 72 hours. The action is intended to inform port users and warn mariners. Such winds can cause large waves.

The Coast Guard also created virtual navigation aids in anticipation of the storm affecting physical buoys marking waterways for safe transit, said Andy Kendrick, a spokesman for the service. The aids appear on digital charts used by mariners so they know where markers should be.

Kendrick said officials don’t anticipate a major impact to the area, however. He said there is currently a 30 percent change of receiving the tropical-force winds, which are fierce and dangerous.

“As we constantly monitor the situation, we are ready to move our vessels to safety, get our people out of harm's way and make appropriate changes to the port condition if necessary,” he said.

In North Carolina and Virginia, the Coast Guard is taking more drastic steps, moving personnel and families out of harm’s way until the storm passes, Kendrick said. Boats and aircraft also are moving out of the area or being pulled from the water.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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