Thursday, December 23, 1999

Honolulu Harbor
Y2K vigil to close
port for 4 hours

By Christine Donnelly


Honolulu Harbor and other commercial ports statewide will unofficially close for four hours on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 as a precaution against the Y2K computer bug, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The voluntary rescheduling of vessel movement -- agreed to by the Coast Guard, the state Transportation Department's Harbors Division and others in the maritime industry -- affects commercial ports but not small-boat recreational harbors, said Cmdr. Mike Rand, executive officer of the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office in Honolulu.

"Technically, we haven't issued an official (closure) order but there is a voluntary rescheduling ... so (commercial ports) will in effect be closed to vessel movement for those critical hours," Rand said yesterday.

The Coast Guard port control safety plan calls for no vessel movement from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 31 (which is 11 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1 Greenwich Mean Time) and then again from 11 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1 Hawaii time.

Ships should have no trouble adjusting arrival times because all vessels must give 24-hours notice before docking at Hawaii ports, Rand said. Departures also are planned well in advance. If an unexpected ship approaches, it will be told to wait offshore until the lull is over, unless it is an emergency, Rand said.

The agreement to halt traffic includes the Hawaii Pilots Association, made up of local captains who board foreign ships and large U.S. vessels offshore and guide them into port, he said. It affects all commercial ports on Oahu and the neighbor islands. Ports around the world are taking similar precautions as the year 2000 arrives.

The Coast Guard requires commercial ships, including tankers, cargo ships and cruise ships, to have Y2K readiness reports and contingency plans that document potential problems with motor and propulsion systems, steering mechanisms, ship-to-shore communications, electronic equipment used to offload goods and other equipment.

Ships unable to prove their Y2K readiness can be barred from U.S. ports, as the failure of any of those systems could cause ship collisions, groundings or oil spills.

Bill Davis, an operations supervisor at Honolulu Harbor, said harbor traffic is typically light overnight. He said state officials have worked with the maritime industry on Y2K issues "for quite some time now and we're reasonably confident that there'll be no major problems."

The closure means New Year's celebrants on the Navatek will cruise a little longer after watching midnight fireworks from offshore.

Navatek's New Year's Eve cruise was supposed to return to Honolulu Harbor at 12:45 a.m., but "we're always willing to work with the harbors on safety issues and we would just alter our cruise and come in a little later," said Susan Matsuura, president of Royal Hawaiian Cruises, which operates the Navatek.

An official at Matson Navigation Co. did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment about whether the rescheduling would impact its business.

Meanwhile, small-boat recreational harbors such as Ala Wai, Keehi, Haleiwa and others will be open as usual as 2000 arrives. But there will be extra Coast Guard patrols to enforce safe boating rules on what is expected to be a busy night on Hawaii's waterways.

"We really want to stress boat safety. Don't drink, use your running lights, file a float plan, make sure you've got enough gas and operate at a safe speed," Rand said.

The Y2K bug stems from the use of two digits to signify the year in dating systems of many older computers. Unless repaired or replaced, those systems may read 2000 as 1900, causing computer failures or mistakes.

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