Ports and Harbors

A harbor is a water area bounded by natural features or manmade structures, or a combination of both, which affords safe moorings and protection for vessels during storms. It may serve purely as a refuge, or it may provide accommodations for various water to water or water to land activities, such as resupply, refueling, repairs, or the transfer of cargo and personnel. When areas of a harbor or its entire expanse are used to transfer commercial cargo or passengers, it is referred to as a "port." This definition is commonly used to designate the major commercial cargo-transfer facilities throughout the world. When a harbor, or portions of it, are utilized by the military services for similar functions, it is designated as a "military harbor." Military harbors generally include the landside areas that provide functional support to waterborne naval activity. In these cases, they are variously termed as: naval base, naval station, naval depot, and naval shipyard, depending upon the support activity involved.

When a Naval ship enters a port, its first destination is generally a mooring facility. Whether this facility is a pier, wharf, or offshore mooring system, the mooring is where the Fleet and Naval facilities come together. Ensuring the safety of personnel and property at these facilities is of vital importance to the Navy. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) is responsible for the formulation of design criteria for design of mooring facilities.

All ships spend a portion of their time in port undergoing loading, unloading, maintenance and short-term repair operations. Mooring facilities and arrangements for these vessels must be designed to withstand local wind and current conditions for normally expected operating conditions. Typically these conditions also include wind loads due to local storm fronts which can approach on short notice. In addition, mooring facilities for some ship classes must be designed for hurricane force wind and tidal conditions. Although active Naval ships often go to sea in the event of a hurricane, many ships are unable to put to sea. These ships include ships under construction or repair, floating drydocks, reserve force ships, inactive ships , museum ships, and non-powered yard craft.

Sea Port of Debarkation (SPOD) operations cross inter-Service boundaries as equipment is offloaded from strategic transportation and prepared for movement into the theater of operations. SPOD functions include off-loading vessels, moving equipment to staging areas, and then clearing the port complex. The Military Traffic Management Command manages all common-user strategic seaports. SPOD operations can range the full spectrum of operations from Joint Logistics Over the Shore (JLOTS) through commercial contract fixed-port supported deployments. The Theater CINC designated port operator can be a MTMC contracted port operator, a deployable active component transportation group, or a reserve component transportation terminal group. The port manager establishes the workload for all Army elements within the port complex that support vessel discharge and inland movement. The port manager is responsible for reception and in coordination with the port MCT, moving equipment inland. Navy Cargo Handling and Port Group (NAVCHAPRG) or USMC Landing Force Support Party (LFSP) e elements may be operating at a joint water complex if no Army or MTMC contracted port operator is present. The port staging area is a location on the ground where equipment temporarily halts while awaiting inland transportation. The port staging area may be a single physical location or several different sites.

Ocean water terminals are classified as fixed-port facilities, unimproved port facilities, or bare beach port facilities. These facilities are subclassified as general cargo terminal, container terminal, RO/RO terminal, and combination terminal. Normally, general cargo terminal operations apply to all ocean water terminals. Container, RO/RO, and combination terminal usually refer to a fixed-port facility. LOTS operations no longer refer to only bare beach operations. The expanded definition of LOTS applies to any operation where oceangoing cargo vessels discharge to lighterage.

Fixed port terminals are an improved network of cargo handling facilities specifically designed for transfer of oceangoing freight, vessel discharge operations, and port clearance. At these facilities, deep-draft oceangoing vessels come alongside a pier, ship or quay and discharge cargo directly onto the apron. Most cargo moves into open or covered in-transit storage to await terminal clearance. Discharge selected cargo direct to land transport. Fixed port facilities also have state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, and are organized to support cargo discharge and port clearance operations.

Container terminals are specialized facilities designed for uninterrupted, high-volume flow of containers between ship and inland transportation modes, and vice versa. Specialized, largely non-self-sustaining vessels that are unloaded by high-productivity industrial equipment service these terminals. These terminals may have facilities for consolidation of break-bulk cargo into containers. An efficient container terminal equipped with gantry cranes can usually discharge and backload a non-self-sustaining containership in 24 to 48 hours.

RO/RO terminals are designed for handling rolling stock. These terminals have a deep water berth, a centralized management cluster, terminal in- and out-processing facilities, and a massive, open unrestricted parking area. The key element of these terminals is that all cargo remains on wheels throughout the terminal transit cycle. Place nontrailerable cargo, such as containers arriving at the port on railcars, on specially designed low-silhouette cargo trailers for the ocean transit. Vessel turnaround times vary according to the size of the vessel and the quantity of cargo on board. Normal completion of discharge and backloading is 18 to 36 hours. The productivity of a RO/RO terminal depends on the cargo rolling off the ship, through the terminal and related processing, and on to final destination.

Unimproved port facilities are not designed for cargo discharge. They do not have the facilities, equipment, and infrastructure characteristic of fixed-port facilities. Unimproved port facilities have insufficient water depth and pier length to accommodate oceangoing cargo vessels. Therefore, use of shallow-draft lighterage is necessary in discharging oceangoing vessels that are anchored in the stream. This fact qualifies the operation as a LOTS operation. In most instances, US Army cargo transfer units use their own TOE equipment to operate unimproved port facilities.

Bare beach facilities best fit the perceived definition of a LOTS operation. In a bare beach facility, Army lighterage is discharged across the beach. There are no facilities, equipment, or infrastructure available equal to cargo discharge or port clearance operations. Beach terminals require specifically selected sites where delivery of cargo by lighterage to or across the beach and into marshaling yards or onto waiting clearance transportation. There is usage of landing crafts, amphibians, and terminal units in a beach operation under the command and control of a terminal battalion.

The strategic home port concept was identified with the cold war at its height, with a 600-ship Navy. When Navy Secretary John Lehman hatched the strategic homeporting idea, he did not do so because there were homeless ships. Even his pipe dream of a 600-ship Navy could have been comfortably berthed at the existing Navy installations. Secretary Lehman designed homeporting as a way to build a broader base of political support for the Navy. There is nothing like building a base and hiring local people to create support for the Navy. The Navy first proposed its homeporting plan in 1982. When the proposal to build a homeport in Staten Island was first put forward, it was in the context of the cold war. There was reason to believe that we needed to disperse the fleet so the Soviets could less easily eliminate it should there be a nuclear war between our two countries. There was a feeling that the US needed to put some of the Navy's warships in closer proximity to the North Atlantic. It was a time when it appeared there would be a 600-ship Navy and there was a need for more facilities for harboring the fleet.

In the early 1980s Congress approved the strategic homeporting initiative to build additional bases and disperse the fleet from the main concentration areas. Navy Secretary John Lehman first proposed the original strategic homeporting scheme. In the early 1980s Congress approved the strategic homeporting initiative to build additional bases and disperse the fleet from the main concentration areas. The strategic homeport program was extensively debated in Congress. It enjoyed the support of not only of the House and Senate but of the Reagan Administration and the Department of Defense. It was decided in 1985 that the strategic homeport program was the best method for implementing the militarily sound principles of dispersal, battlegroup integrity, and increasing the naval presence in the geographic flanks.

The FY1990 Defense Appropriation bill provided funding of $63 million for continuation of construction of strategic homeport sites at Mobile, Alabama; Staten Island, New York; Pascagoula, Mississippi; Ingleside, Texas; and Everett; Washington. In April 1990 Defense Secretary Cheney extended the moratorium on most military construction and announced that construction at four of the six homeports would be candidates for rescission.

In 1998, the Navy began a major realignment of shore command organizations in a process known as "regionalization". Sustaining a skilled, motivated, and ready force is the foundation for the future of the Navy-Marine Corps team. A variety of tools are utilized to retain the best and brightest Sailors and Marines. For example, the Navy's Homebasing Initiative gives families more stability by serving in a single Fleet Concentration Area (FCA). Shore duty is based on at sea requirements plus sea/shore rotation goals (3 years ashore/ 4 years at sea with 70% reassignment within the same Fleet concentration area). Afloat training groups at fleet concentration areas are used to tailor training to meet the needs of individual commands. Certain "C" schools can be better accomplished in Fleet concentration areas.

Homebasing, a Navy initiative undertaken in 1996 by the Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS), is an effort to assign E-4 to E-9 Sailors to the same geographic area for the majority of their careers. The goal is to improve Sailors' quality of life through geographic stability and reduce permanent change of station (PCS) funding costs. While homebasing is not a guarantee that a Sailor will spend all of his or her career in one geographic area, the homebasing initiative tries to minimize tours out of the fleet concentration areas (FCA) to two per career. These tours could be overseas or in heartland billets. BUPERS started the process of redistributing the billet structure so more billets are available in the Fleet Concentration Areas. But, with about 65,000 E4 through E9 billets located outside FCAs, a significant increase in homebasing opportunities will take some time to achieve. By 1997 BUPERS had already made it possible for every enlisted Sailor (E4 through E9) to extend on sea duty in order to stay in the same geographic area if they are good performers and receive their Commanding Officer's endorsement. The final steps toward making homebasing a reality involve rearranging the billet structure and adjusting rotation policies.

Join the mailing list