As mariners, we know firsthand what can go wrong when fog robs us of our visual references at sea. As Texans who make our livings on the waterways, we have a special appreciation and profound love for our state’s coast.
And, as state appointed ship pilots, we have a duty to protect passengers, crew and cargo from mishap, and our ports and waterways from environmental and economic disaster.
The mercurial nature of Texas fog sometimes forces ship pilots to make the tough call that conditions simply aren’t safe enough for entering or exiting port — not just for the ship we are piloting, but for the fishing vessel, recreational boater, state ferry, and any others who might be using the waterway for fun or business at the same time.
We make such decisions fully aware of the repercussions they will have on everyone involved, and never make them for any reason but the safety of the ship, crew, passengers and the ports of Galveston and Texas City.
Most news stories of late have focused on the effects on cruise lines when the channel is closed due to fog. This overlooks the fact that when we close the channel for fog or inclement weather, in almost every situation the Houston Ship Channel is closed as well, affecting every vessel waiting, including container ships, tankers and cargo ships.
While delays are a regrettable inconvenience, an accident resulting from unnecessary risk could be a calamity, with damages measured in the millions, or even billions, of dollars — or even worse, a loss of life.
Texas ports are a critical connection between buyers and sellers around the world, enabling hundreds of billions in trade, and supporting half a million Texas jobs in the process. Were an accident to close the port, the result would be a staggering breakdown of the global supply chain.
As we experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year, even the slightest, perceived hiccup can result in regional shortages of goods and basic consumables like gasoline.
That’s all besides the potentially devastating effects such an accident could have on the environment. An accident dumping chemicals or oil into the Gulf waters could cause major damage to the fishing and tourism industries, and potentially have negative impacts on the health of all our friends and families.
I’m proud of the way we survived 2017 — a year of historic storms — without a major accident in the ship channels we protect. I’m also proud of the recognition we received from the U.S. Coast Guard this month for our diligent work in preparing the ports for Hurricane Harvey’s arrival, and for our efforts to get the ports open again as quickly as possible.
We take our responsibilities very, very seriously, and — while we don’t enjoy being forced to delay entry to ports due to fog — we make no apologies for being diligent in our efforts to protect the lives, livelihoods and well-being of the people of Galveston County and the state of Texas.