ALWAYS ON CALL
The Harbor Services and Marine Ops Divisions of the Port of South Louisiana put out literal and figurative fires throughout the 54-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, ensuring commerce continues without interruption.
When it comes to the daily industrial ballet of moving massive quantities of cargo along the Father of Waters, the unexpected is, well, expected.
So that’s why the Port of South Louisiana developed its Marine Ops Division decades ago, and continues to outfit it with more disaster-prevention vessels and equipment, enabling members to efficiently and thoroughly combat accidents and injuries that occur along the Mississippi River. Because river traffic never sleeps, the Marine Ops Division is able to respond 24 hours a day and is responsible for calls between Miles 114 and 168 — the Port District — of the river.
Incidents that fall under the Marine Ops’ jurisdiction include: fires, explosions, search and rescue, vessel malfunctions, crew injuries, security and surveillance, assisting Coast Guard operations, basic river patrols and just about any possible disaster scenario imaginable.
“The Coast Guard doesn’t have any vessels staged in the Mississippi River, so we basically are the first line of defense, or the first responders, if you will,” said Brian Cox, Director of Operations for the Port of South Louisiana. “We will report back to the Coast Guard, and they’ll make decisions on what they want to send — whether it’s a helicopter, or maybe send some personnel out to jump on our boat to take a look.”
Because of the lengthy stretch of river Marine Ops is assigned to patrol, the Port has upped its Fire-Tugboat roster from one vessel in 2002 to four vessels today. The third of those vessels — the PSL Responder — was chosen as one of the “10 Significant Boats of 2007” by WorkBoat Magazine.
But that was then, and this is now. And today, the vessel that’s the jewel of the Port is the newly-acquired Nathan Folse — a 75-foot custom configured, Endurance-model, multi-purpose catamaran. This ship has everything: Twin Cat C-18 diesel engines producing a top speed of 25 knots, a pilothouse with 360-degree visibility and can be pressurized and ventilated against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive dangers, providing peace of mind knowing crews can do their jobs in disaster response scenarios. Best of all, the $3.2 million Nathan Folse can disperse 6,000 gallons of water in a minute during a fire.
“I mean, it’s top of the line in every capacity,” Cox said. “It’s a vessel that is filled with state-of-the-art firefighting equipment, state-of-the-art controls, radar, global positioning. Everything on that vessel is as new as you can get. It’s really the Cadillac of the fleet.”
The four fire-tugboats are stationed at Mile 138 of the Mississippi River. They patrol the river two or three days a week, although crew is on duty at all times.
Same goes for the Maritime Security Operations Center (MSOC) at the Globalplex Intermodal Terminal in Reserve, which is also manned 24 hours a day.
Opened in 2013, the MSOC is essentially the command and control center for the Marine Ops Division, and operators monitor local, state and federal marine radio traffic and direct the Marine Ops ships during times of emergency. The MSOC is housed in a unit that can withstand hurricane-force winds, and is situated with modern communications and surveillance instruments.
“The main thing is, because of the serious nature of the calls our crew goes on, we have to equip them with anything and everything from a technology standpoint to do their jobs as best they can,” Cox said. “So we’re always looking, ‘How can we improve navigation for Marine Ops?’ ‘How can we improve training and make things safer?’ You’re always assessing how you do things and looking for ways to make it better.”