“We aren’t closed and will take any ship that needs us until the Coast Guard closes the port,” said Thomas Spina, director of cruise operations in New York, commenting on the status of the port as Hurricane Irene blows north along the Atlantic coast.

However, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has told city residents to pack a “go bag” and advised those in low-lying areas to leave. New York City Mass Transit may even shut down, according to city officials, as New York is expecting its first major hurricane in recent memory.

This coming weekend, turnaround operations are scheduled for Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line and Norwegian Cruise Line in Manhattan, Princess Cruises in Brooklyn.

In New Jersey, Royal Caribbean is turning around the Explorer of the Seas in Bayonne.

Experts noted to Cruise Industry News that bigger ships can run from the storm at sea, but would be at the storm’s mercy if they are moored in port.  

The United States Coast Guard, which has the power to close the port, can also tell ships to leave the piers, and will have the final say.

The Captain of the Port (COTP), Linda Fagan, for the Coast Guard, will make that decision.

“The conditions that would warrant closing the port are based on wind speed,” said Charles W. Rowe, public affairs officer, United States Coast Guard Sector New York.

The port, as of Friday morning, was in condition WHISKEY, meaning gale force winds were expected to arrive within 72 hours. Those are winds that are forecasted to be 50 knots or more, according to Rowe.

“When we expect them to arrive in 48 hours, we go to condition X-RAY,” noted Rowe. Twenty-four hours out, its condition YANKEE, and then 12 hours away, it’s ZULU.

Once the port enters the X-RAY condition, it is still open without restrictions, but the Coast Guard will individually consider requests from vessels entering or wanting to remain in the port.

“We respond on a case by case basis,” Rowe said. Twenty-four hours away, the port remains open, and the Coast Guard makes final mooring arrangements with vessels that have been cleared to remain in port.

“For ZULU, the port is open, but there are restrictions,” explained Rowe. “The possibility that a port closure is coming is communicated, we suspend cargo handling operations, and we count down the hours as the storm nears.”

He noted that Sector New York had been in touch with all the major players in the port, from cruise lines to pilots, cargo ships, and port agents, for at least the last three days.

“They know what we are likely to do and when we are likely to do it.”