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New US queuing arrangement for container ships off LA / Long Beach

News & Insights 24 November 2021

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Members are advised that a new container vessel queuing process, named PacMMS (Pacific Maritime Management Services), for container ships for the ports of Los Angeles (LA) and Long Beach (LB) has come into effect at...

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Members are advised that a new container vessel queuing process, named PacMMS (Pacific Maritime Management Services), for container ships for the ports of Los Angeles (LA) and Long Beach (LB) has come into effect at 0000 UTC on Tuesday 16 November 2021. 

Based on the high level of container vessels off the coast of Southern California and the risks posed to maritime safety and air quality, an Industry Working Group was formed to develop this new vessel queuing process. The purpose was to find a fair and transparent process to reduce vessels at anchor/loitering area, allow for vessels to slow steam and optimize voyage transit time. 

In the past, container vessels were assigned into the arrival queue based on when they ‘actually arrive’ and cross a line 20 nautical miles from LA or LB. 

As per the new process (PacMMS), container vessels will be assigned a place in the queue based on when they depart their last port of call (LPOC) before LA and LB and their Calculated Time of Arrival (CTA) at LA/LB. PacMMS will be the initial point of contact and “tracker” for each container vessel. 

Consequence of these changes 

As a consequence of the new queuing system, vessels must stay out of a defined Safety and Air Quality Area (SAQA) until they have a berthing assignment in the reasonable future (which is defined as 72 hours). 

SAQA is the area designated around the ports of LA/LB within which the number of vessels will be limited to reduce the risks posed to maritime safety and improve air quality. 

This would mean that vessels coming from the West are expected to stay more than 150 miles from shore and to remain well clear of Department of Defence (DOD) Ranges (outlined in magenta) in the chartlet which can be found at the end of the executive summary found here

Potential issues and mitigating measures: 

We envisage the following issues as container vessels drift 150 miles off the Californian coast and suggest following mitigating solutions: 

High traffic density: crowding into congested waters close to shore: Many container vessels manoeuvring 150 miles off LA could lead to a build-up of traffic in the area. Specifically, an enhanced navigation risk is envisaged if the visibility deteriorates; fog is known to set in these waters during winter. Long term drifting can lead to complacency and lowered crew morale which is a recipe for navigational incidents. The bridge team is advised to be alert and not let complacency set in.  Bridge team must always comply with the COLREGS and should resist the temptation of displaying NUC lights and shapes when drifting.  Prior arrival, a designated drifting area should be identified by the bridge team which should be sufficiently away from the TSS off the San Pedro Bay port complex. Masters should communicate effectively with their shore management to keep them abreast of the situation and their intentions. 

Potential for container stack collapse and stability issues: Very Large Container Carriers with large beams naturally have the tendency to have a high metacentric height (GM) and could find themselves rolling significantly if getting broad on to the waves and swell while drifting. This could potentially lead to violent and synchronous rolling which could lead in turn to container stack collapses. Smaller container ships would also need to be mindful of their stability and the crew should prevent the ships from becoming too stiff or too tender when drifting. Crew are advised to exercise good seamanship and always have the vessel's engines ready for immediate manoeuver to head into the wind whilst avoiding beam swell. Drifting long term could lead to increased fuel consumption and sufficient reserve bunkers should be available. 

Whilst calculating departure and arrival stability, the chief officer should factor the impact of drifting on the vessel's stability and consider the arrangement and consumption of bunkers, and the management of ballast in order to minimize free surface moments. 

Weather conditions: Ship's crew and shore management are advised to keep track of the latest weather forecasts and prognosis through reliable weather service providers. Whilst the waters off Southern California are generally considered to be benign, the impact of changing weather patterns are to be considered. During hurricane season, the mariner should keep track of developing low pressures and their predicted tracks. It is useful to consult the NOAA website for developing weather events and forecasts. 

California low sulphur & ballast water regulations: Mariners are advised to refamiliarize themselves with the latest California low sulphur fuel regulations and ballast water management regulations so as not to inadvertently breach regulations whilst drifting. 

Whale protection: Mariners should be aware that waters off California are natural whale havens and should navigate with caution. It is understood that the SAQA Boundary was, in part, drawn to avoid the Santa Barbara area with concentrated populations of endangered blue, humpback and fin whales. More information about avoiding strikes with marine mammals on the West Coast of USA can be found here

Members are advised to stay abreast with latest information and developments of the queuing arrangements which can be found at the Pacific Maritime Management Services website.   

The club would like to thank David A. Tong and Tara B. Voss of Peacock Piper Tong + Voss LLP for contributing their valuable insights in preparation of this article. 

Category: Loss Prevention

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