Hardware Failures Caused Terminals to Close at Port of Houston

May 14, 2021

Amidst the various hiccups happening at various ports, shipping routes, and other points of cargo transportation, on July 24th of 2021 it was announced by Port Houston that they had to close the Bayport and Barbours Cut container terminals from new ships while they fixed some hardware issues. Around 7 AM on that Tuesday, when they were due to first open, the issues had begun to manifest but they were able to counter it with backup procedures. However, those backups went on to fail about two hours after, leaving the terminals unable to complete the loading/unloading process for any new ships.

On July 30 of 2021, Port Houston then announced on its Twitter that they were finally reopening, and with extended gate hours to likely make up for the days of hold ups.

How Important is Port Houston?

Port Houston is not just important, it is actually one of the busiest with around 50 deep water vessels making port every day. It ranks as the number one port in foreign waterborne tonnage, according to their site, and the Houston Ship Channel is the busiest in the United States. It is the biggest port in the state of Texas and the largest port on the Gulf Coast as well.

The Houston Ship Channel also plays a large part in America’s production of chemicals, oil, and gas. With that in mind, it makes sense that it is also home to the largest petrochemical complex in the nation, which also ranks as the second largest of its kind in the whole world. This makes Port Houston an incredibly important component of US economy and trade. The port does have several general cargo terminals such as Turning Basin, Jacintoport, and Woodhouse, but the nearly weeklong closure of its two main public terminals had caused a buildup of boxships anchored outside of Houston while the issue was being resolved.

It should be noted that the port’s executive director Roger Guenther has reported that the issues did not have a large impact on the 52-mile ship channel as a whole. In all, the Houston Ship Channel has over 200 private terminals and eight public ones. Bayport and Barbours Cut are two of those public ones.

How Can We Fix This Supply-Chain Vulnerability?

Building more ports would be incredibly costly to help cut down on these types of delays. What’s likely to be needed is a way to improve the speed in which systems can be restored or upgraded. When the terminals first experienced hardware failure, Port Houston actually had the components needed to fix the issues. However, the process of repair and getting the systems back up was a whole different challenge that took a considerable amount of time. Improving that process of repair and restart could help ensure that these hiccups in the system can be quickly rectified, so that shipping can resume without too much delay, which in turn will reduce the gaps in our nation’s supply chain.

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