Port of South Louisiana operating at full capacity: COVID-19 hasn’t impacted efficiency

Published 10:50 am Tuesday, March 31, 2020

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RESERVE — The Port of South Louisiana does not take lightly its role as the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere. As COVID-19 concerns force most Port of South employees toward home offices and conference calls, the facility is still operating a full capacity with help from essential personnel working on-site.

The only employees currently stationed at the Port of South Louisiana in Reserve are working in security and on the dock, according to Executive Director Paul Aucoin. The Port of South Louisiana is also continuing operations of its hull of search and rescue boats.

A check-in Monday with state officials reported operations are functioning at 100 percent. Updates will be given to officials at the start of each week.

“The Port will continue operating as close to normal as possible, for as long as possible, without putting anyone in danger,” Aucoin said.

The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed its own regulations to protect the health of those working in the Maritime Industry. Safety precautions were put into place by the beginning of February, as the coronavirus outbreak began to take root in several countries overseas. The policies were most recently updated on March 16.

Illness of a person on board a vessel that may adversely impact the safety of a vessel or port facility must be immediately reported to the U.S. Coast Guard. According to Coast Guard officials, symptoms of COVID-19 or any other flu-like illness are considered hazardous regardless of where the individual has been or who he or she has interacted with.

Presidential proclamations have placed entry restrictions on arrivals from 30 different countries, most of which are in Europe or Asia.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard bulletin, vessels that have been to or embarked crewmembers from countries with restrictions within the past 14 days must take additional precautions. All who have been in or through a restricted country may be subject to CDC screening prior to disembarkation.

Those vessels without any sick crewmembers will be permitted to enter the U.S. and conduct normal operations, only if crewmembers remain aboard the vessel except to conduct activities directly linked to vessel cargo or provisioning. Vessels that do have sick crewmembers should expect delays and must work with health officials prior to entry.

Maritime facility operators are not permitted to impede embarkation or disembarkation of crew members, as that authority lies with Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard. The CDC will have authority for medical matters.

Other in-house precautions being taken by the Port of South Louisiana are the same pieces of advice that have been echoed by health experts for weeks: wash your hands, avoid touching your face and practice social distancing.

Aucoin is currently working with South Central Planning on the Revolving Loan Fund, a program intended to help businesses minimize debt during this difficult time with no-interest and low-interest loans.

The Port of South Louisiana is in close contact with businesses that have had to adjust to governor proclamations.

“A lot of our tenants in our warehouses are in the food distribution business,” Aucoin said. “For example, NATCO, which is a food and restaurant supplier, is hurting right now, but they are repacking and selling food to the public instead.”