September 19, 2019 – Ships are safer at sea than in port. Like two ceramic mugs loosely next to each other in the dishwasher, a ship and the pier will damage each other as they bang together during a storm. Ships also have to leave well in advance of a storm in order to avoid destructive weather and rough seas. The Navy refers to this as a sortie.
The next safest option to sortie is Safe Haven. As Hurricane Dorian tracked toward Hampton Roads the week of Sept. 2, NNSY Port Operations went to work to prepare to safe haven the ships and Navy assets including service craft and mooring equipment from both Naval Station Norfolk (NSN) and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek (JEBLC).
According to NNSY Installation Program Director of Port Operations John Schmeckenbecher and NNSY Port Operations Officer-in-Charge LT Deena R. Abt, NNSY is the predesignated location to provide protective berthing to Navy ships and assets. The practice is as old as the art of seafaring itself, and because it is further inland than the other installations, the shipyard is the perfect spot to provide safe haven for Hampton Roads naval assets.
Given the nature of hurricanes, the Navy Port Operations departments at all installations must remain vigilant as they get predictions from Fleet Weather Center (FWC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The moment a storm forms, planning for Navy assets is already underway as decisions hinge on the projected storm track. NNSY’s Dockmaster Chris Adams and Docking Officer LT Patrick Stewart make tidal calculations in house, and provide projected flooding data to the shipyard as a whole.
NNSY accepts as many ships as the berths will allow, but United States Ships (USS) have priority over United States Naval Ships (USNS). Once the list of ships and berth assignments for USS ships is complete, the remaining available berths are given to USNS and Navy contract ships. NNSY Port Operations communicates with Navy Region Mid-Atlantic (NRMA), NSN and JEBLC for information on ships requiring safe haven and assigns berths accordingly.
Not only was the Navy’s fleet protected on NNSY’s end, but it’s personnel as well. Aboard the safe haven ships alone, 308 Sailors and Civilian Merchant Mariners took shelter. These ships consisted of USS BOISE (SSN 764), USS SHAMAL (PC-13), USNS WESTWIND (T-AGSE-2), USNS BLACKPOWDER (T-AGSE-1), USNS APACHE (T-ATF-172), USNS HUGO (TSV-2), USNS HUNTER (TSV-3), USNS NARRAGANSETT (TSV-4), towing vessels GARY CHOUEST and DOLORES CHOUEST, and USS BOISE Living Barge (YRBM 09). Additionally Navy dive boats Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot and Navy contract dive boat COASTAL PRIDE were also protected.
NNSY’s safely executed safe haven would not have been possible without the professionalism and dedication from personnel from Port Operations, Dockmaster, hotel services (Shop 99), line handlers (Shop 72) and Fleet Maintenance Submarines (FMB).