Are naval vessels safer at sea or in port during a hurricane or tsunami?
Brion Boyles QMC (SW) (Ret)
Custom model builder, owner (1997-present)
Tsunami or hurricane, a ship will certainly be susceptible to damage while pier-side or anchored in a harbor. Not only is her own maneuverability restricted to pick her way or or avoid beating up against a quay or pier, but she may be damaged by OTHER vessels breaking their moorings and mucking about. A tsunami could pitch her onto the beach or against obstructions, not to mention the drastic run of water retreating OUT to sea (often exposing the floor ) BEFORE a tsunami waves strikes. Such a quick grounding, potentially breaking her back, and then sudden re-floating without time to repair could easily be deadly for any ship. A harbor emergency may stretch available tug boats to the limit, and a vessel might easily be blown aground in a hurricane. One such vessel I served aboard was blown aground in Apra harbor, Guam during a typhoon, had her propellor shaft bent and was eventually scrapped.
Smart mariners know how to safely navigate typhoons at sea. I myself encountered nine typhoons at sea in one season, on a U.S. Navy LST in the 1980’s. There are “dangerous” and “less dangerous” areas to try and ride one out a storm. Additionally, smart seamanship can reduce the effects of the storm on the vessel’s ride. A vessel has little or no chance to move once caught in port. Therefore, most would put to sea to avoid being banged about in the tight confines of a harbor.
There is one exception: Sasebo, Japan is the world’s safest “typhoon haven”. Reached by a series of zig-zags thru several high, cliff-sided approaches and surrounded by high hills, I have often ridden out such weather there. The sum total of the storm was a bit of high wind, 3– 4-foot waves and a lot of rain.