Why more cargo ships are anchored off Manchester – and why the Coast Guard says it’s a good thing

(WSB photo, early February)

More than a few people have asked us this: Why are multiple cargo ships visible at anchor across the Sound, off Manchester, almost continuously? It was a common sight during last year’s dispute at the Port of Seattle, but nothing like that is happening now. When we asked the Port, they pointed us to the U.S. Coast Guard, which manages the anchorages there. And with the help of the 13th District Public Affairs team, we have the answer.

Chief Petty Officer Randy Hale explains that the area is known as Yukon Harbor, and it was designated as an anchorage area in the 1970s; with Bainbridge to the north, Blake and Vashon Islands to the south, it has protection from our area’s sometimes-brutal windstorms. It wasn’t used much until the Port dispute a year-plus ago, but now, the reasons you’re seeing more ships there this winter are multiple: For one, CPO Hale says, “Smith Cove West anchorage [off Magnolia] is closed seasonally (winter months) – this reduced the amount of available anchorages in Elliott Bay.” That, CPO Hale says, is coupled with an increase in port activity overall (we’re checking back with the Port of Seattle about this – most of the anchored ships are waiting to get to Terminal 86). And finally, a side benefit: “On a good note, the utilization of Yukon Harbor Vessel Traffic Service Puget Sound has experienced a significant decrease in the amount of reported anchored vessels dragging anchor, reducing the risk of damage to our beautiful waters.” Overall, this is expected to continue: “It will likely be utilized more frequently than what residents are historically accustomed to seeing.”

When the Kitsap Sun answered a similar question in 2012, its story noted that it was rare to see more than one at a time. Lately, anecdotally, our checks have shown three there almost continuously – including right now, as shown on MarineTraffic.com.

If you’re looking across the Sound to this area, you might also see ships that are docked west of Yukon Harbor, at Manchester, which is a U.S. Navy fuel depot – such as this one we reported on in 2014.

8 Replies to "Why more cargo ships are anchored off Manchester - and why the Coast Guard says it's a good thing"

  • Janice February 25, 2016 (1:34 pm)

    And just for fun, you can see what ships are out there by looking at the Live Ships Map… https://www.marinetraffic.com/

  • T Rex February 25, 2016 (2:16 pm)

    I love them being anchored there, hope they keep this up!

  • Kym Shepherd February 25, 2016 (5:43 pm)

    I live in Manchester. The presence of these ships is not a good thing. This is a quiet residential community, not a commercial port. The area is known for kayaking, salmon fishing, crabbing and recreational boating. It is worrisome at best to consider the ramifications of these vessels. In addition to the ecological concerns the vessels have lights which shine all night long into our bedroom windows.  We have observed them taking on fuel from the fuel barges. I am not sure how to feel secure about this situation. That the area was intended for overflow is one thing. To have these commercial vessels routinely in a recreational, residential community is another. 

    • WSB February 25, 2016 (5:48 pm)

      Hi, Kym, thanks for your comment. Have your local representatives been looking into this? City or county councilmembers?

  • Kym Shepherd February 25, 2016 (5:56 pm)

    We are exploring but until recently did not have a definitive response from the Coast Guard. Anyone who has visited the area or camped at Manchester State Park or anchored at Blake Island is apt to share our concern. 

  • Andy R February 25, 2016 (6:04 pm)

    I have to agree with Kym.  The huge anchor chains dragging across the seafloor must be affecting the long established  crab grounds.  I don’t see how this could  be good for the environment.  I am surprised the Coast Guard does  not have to do some evaluation in this regard.

  • Linda February 25, 2016 (6:25 pm)

    Actually, the Coast Guard statement says the ships do less damage to the sea bed in that area.  I think it’s because there are buoys to which they tie up rather than dropping anchor.

  • Kym Shepherd February 25, 2016 (7:05 pm)

    They drop massive anchors. We hear them. I am sure this is an environmentally sensitive area. I wish there was more information about what was considered, what is being introduced into the immediate environment and what we should expect in terms of future activity. 

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