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Houston’s Container Operations Suspended due to Hardware Failure

Houston container operations suspended due to hardware failure
Barbours Cut Terminal is one of two offline (Port of Houston photo)

Published Jul 28, 2021 4:39 PM by The Maritime Executive

Operations at the Port of Houston’s two container terminals remain suspended for a second day after what the port authority is describing as a “hardware failure,” that has prevented the terminals from processing transactions. The port’s executive director, however, emphasized in a letter to customers and stakeholders that “this is not a cyber-attach on the Port Houston operating system.”

According to the port, the problem was discovered yesterday, July 27, before the normal opening time at 7:00 a.m. for the truck gates servicing both the Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals. The opening was initially delayed but they were operational by 10:00 a.m. only to have the system again fail by noon taking both terminals offline. 

“We experienced a major failure of the storage devices that support all of the applications used to operate” the container terminals Roger Guenther, the port’s executive director wrote to customers. He said after the first failure the port moved to a redundant set of storage devices. “Unfortunately, the redundant storage devices failed at 12:00 noon and the terminals have been unable to process any transactions since then.”

Ships that were already at the terminals have been able to continue working, but it has not been possible for the terminals to begin processing new vessels. The operations at the truck gates for both container terminals are also suspended. AIS data currently shows more than a dozen cargo ships waiting at the anchor at the entrance to the Houston Ship Channel, although it is unclear how many are being delayed by the current systems' outage at the terminals.

“Frankly, the outlook for reopening today is not good,” Guenther advised customers this morning, July 28. He reported that the port staff working with contractors now have the necessary hardware but “configuration and restoration of all the components has been a slow process.” 

 The port plans to extend daily gate hours after operations resume and will also operate weekend gates if necessary to recoup on any backlogs that are developing during this period.

Combined the two terminals handle as much as two-thirds of all the container volume handled at the Gulf Coast ports. The Barbours Cut terminal has six berths with 6,000 feet of dock, a roll-on/roll-off platform, a LASH dock, 230 acres of paved marshaling area, and 255,000 square feet of warehouse space. The newer Bayport terminal will have a total of seven container berths with the capacity to handle 2.3 million TEUs on a complex which includes 376 acres of container yard and a 123-acre intermodal facility. The port highlighted that the terminal features electronic data interchange capabilities and a computerized inventory control system that tracks the status and location of individual containers.

The outage comes as the Port of Houston was like many ports reporting record volumes led by its container business. In June, more than 292,000 TEU were handled, making it the busiest June on record for containers at Port Houston. Year to date, container numbers are up 39 percent over 2020 while total tonnage at the port was up seven percent in June and two percent for all of 2021.

Guenther wrote to customers saying they recognized the impact of this situation and asked for their patience.