New Orleans' High-Traffic Port to Shut as Isaac Nears

Cargo terminals within the busy Port of New Orleans will cease operations by 5 p.m. local time as the port’s personnel and terminal operators prepare for Tropical Storm Isaac, forecasted to make landfall early Wednesday morning as a Category 2 hurricane.

The announcement follows the halting of operations on Sunday by the Associated Branch Pilots, which pilot ships through the Southwest Pass at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

The Crescent River Port Pilots and the New Orleans Baton Rouge Pilot Association ceased moving vessels this morning, closing the Mississippi River to deep-draft traffic until the storm passes.

The Port of New Orleans’ administration building and cargo operations will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, the port announced Monday afternoon.

At the mouth of the Mississippi River that moves about 500 million tons of cargo a year, the port is at the center of the world’s busiest shipping complex. More than 6,000 vessels move through New Orleans on the river each year and its general cargo volume has averaged 8.6 million tons from 2003 through 2007.

“The safety of our personnel and their families is paramount during any threat of this kind,” said Port CEO Gary LaGrange. “Our staff and terminal operators have taken all of the necessary precautions in anticipation of the worst, while we hope for the best.”

The final phase of the port’s storm plan is to lock down heavy equipment like cranes and secure all floating equipment, while ensuring key operations and security personnel are in place.

The MSC Nederland, a 778-foot container ship, will remain in port along with five other ships until the Mississippi River reopens. The Port’s Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal, which is jointly operated by Ports America and New Orleans Terminal, is finishing work today on the Nederland and both operators have stopped accepting refrigerated and hazardous containers.

New Orleans Terminal’s gate will close today at 2 p.m. local time, while Ports America will accept their last truck for the Napoleon Terminal at 2:30. The operators' breakbulk operations will continue as scheduled until 5 p.m.

LaGarange said the port’s storm preparations have “gone very smoothly” and it remains in constant contact and is coordinating all efforts with the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and all of its tenants and customers.

While Isaac is following a similar route as Hurricane Katrina did in 2005 and is expected to cause significant flooding in the region, meteorologists are forecasting that he will be less intense.

Katrina, which made landfall as a Cat 3, destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes due to significant flooding after the city’s levees broke under the weight of the storm surge. She caused millions of dollars of damages and destroyed one-third of the port.

Following Isaac’s passing, the Coast Guard will evaluate all waterways and determine when the Mississippi River will be reopened.

Despite Tropical Storm Isaac’s approach through the Caribbean this weekend, the port in New Orleans said cruise operations were not affected over the weekend.

Carnival’s (NYSE:CCL) Conquest sailed normally Sunday and is due back on Sunday, Sept. 2 and the Carnival Elation is scheduled to arrive Thursday at the Erato Street Cruise Terminal.

Shares of Paragon Shipping (NASDAQ:PRGN) Diana Shipping (NYSE:DSX) and Seanergy Maritime (NASDAQ:SHIP) all ticked lower on Monday, while those of ocean cargo company DryShips (NASDAQ:DRYS) climbed by 1.4%. Shares of Carnival were up 1.9%.