With news of Hurricane Maria’s devastating effects on the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson—originally scheduled to survey the approaches to the ports of Houston and Galveston following Hurricane Harvey—changed course. It was evident with the widespread flooding, winds, and storm surge that critical ports were paralyzed, and large ships with fuel and supplies were prevented from entering safely.
Coast Survey first sent NOAA’s mobile integrated survey team (MIST)—a mobile, quick-install side scan / single beam sonar kit that can be quickly set up on a vessel of opportunity—immediately following the storm at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard. MIST completed the emergency hydrographic surveys in the Port of Arecibo, an important fuel and chemical port. However, there is much more work to be done both immediately and in the long-term.
While the MIST was working with the USCG on the most immediate needs on the island, Thomas Jefferson transited down the east coast of Florida to Port Everglades and then towards Puerto Rico arriving on Thursday, September 28. A ship of this size can’t arrive overnight and must transit over the course of three to four days. In order to arrive as early as possible but avoid foul weather and rough seas during the journey, the ship traveled southeast along the leeward side of the Bahamas as Hurricane Maria made it’s way northwest.
“NOAA is really proud that the Thomas Jefferson has arrived in Puerto Rico to help the United States Coast Guard and the local port authorities to restore the full capacity of the island’s sea ports,” said Rear Adm. Shepard Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. “ The people of Puerto Rico need the transportation infrastructure restored to bring relief to the stricken and rebuild their lives after this tragic storm.”
While in San Juan, the ship deployed its launches and delivered supplies to NOAA’s National Weather Service at the USCG small boat pier. They also provided equipment needed to repair the NOAA tide gauge station in San Juan. Once the drop was made, Thomas Jefferson traveled around the island to Ponce at the request of the USCG. Its launches were deployed at sunrise on September 29 to survey the deep draft channel, a crucial step to re-opening the port and allowing goods and services to enter. Additionally, the USCG requested a complete side scan sonar survey to locate a crane that was potentially knocked into the water during the storm and to ensure no other obstructions exist in the channel and port. Thomas Jefferson’s next stop in Puerto Rico is Roosevelt Roads, a port that has not yet opened since the storm hit the island.
Thomas Jefferson will then transit to St. Croix and commence survey operations in Christiansted which also has remained closed since the storm. The ship will address additional ports based on USCG priority.
NOAA is responsible for surveying U.S. waters for safety of navigation and producing the nautical charts that guide all ships on the water. Given the magnitude of the damage to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, NOAA anticipates that Thomas Jefferson will remain in the area after USCG priority ports surveys have been completed to conduct additional surveys to update charts in areas affected by the storm.