Coast Guard partially reopens shipping channel

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The US Coast Guard has ordered that the Gulfport shipping channel be reopened with a daylight only restriction. The restriction is in place to prevent any other potential hazards while salvage efforts are underway for the sunken fishing vessel "Sandy Point."

The unfortunate collision between two vessels at sea forced shipping traffic to come to a complete halt until the Coast Guard lifted the restriction yesterday morning.

Port officials said when you consider everything, the closures didn't have much of an effect on business at the port.

It's not quite business as usual at the port, but there is some business being conducted, which wasn't the case a few days ago.

"The waterway was immediately closed by U.S. Coast Guard which is a normal procedure. From that time it remained closed until yesterday morning," said Don Allee, Port Director.

Since the channel has reopened with daylight only restrictions, there have already been two vessels to pass through. Port Director, Don Allee, said these limitations are very common considering that there's still another vessel missing.

"There is a salvage operation going on at about mile marker 23 at the sight of the collision from last week and there's quite a few vessels in that area that are participating in that salvage operation so with daylight it's a little easier to navigate that point at night. That's just an added hazard," said Allee.

According to officials, even though traffic to and from the port was put on hold, there haven't been very many setbacks as far as business is concerned.

"If you just look at it statistically, we handle right now, about 230 to 245 ships per year. I can identify one of those vessels was forced to make a decision to go to another port," explained Allee.

So as the port takes necessary steps towards business as usual, Allee said the mission ahead is a clear one.

"The most important things are the thoughts that go out to the crew members that lost their lives in this unfortunate accident. On the commercial side of things to get that waterway open daylight or nighttime transits and to get back to the business of creating jobs and moving cargo through the MS port authority."

Officials with Omega Protein, the company that owns the sunken vessel and is charged with salvaging the boat, said assuming there are no unforeseen problems or weather issues they hope to have the "Sandy Point" out of the Mississippi Sound in the next 6 to 9 days.