Executive Summary

The future safety of maritime transportation in the United States—a major factor in the nation's international trade and economic well-being—will depend heavily on the quality of port and waterways information systems. Many formal studies, as well as informal discussions among port users, have detailed the shortcomings of existing maritime information systems and called for quick remedies. The demands for improvements are becoming increasingly urgent as only scattered, minimally funded system upgrades are made and oceanborne trade continues to grow.

Some of the most urgent needs of mariners are for accurate, real-time information about harbor and waterway conditions (e.g., water depth, weather, currents, and tides); voiceless communications systems that provide navigation and traffic data, as needed, without causing undue distractions; a consistent operating environment nationwide in terms of rules and equipment standards; effective vessel traffic management schemes that can deal with congestion and emergencies; and systems that promote quick responses to cargo spills and other hazards. The requisite technologies are available to meet all of these needs and have already been implemented in some foreign ports.

Many U.S. ports and waterways lack adequate information services, although certain elements of advanced systems are now available in some locations. Barriers to improvements in information systems include the division of responsibilities for waterways management among multiple agencies at all levels of government, a lack of coordination among the federal agencies responsible for waterways management, inadequate budgets for some critical maritime programs, the high costs of some specialized technologies, stakeholder opposition to user fees, limited access to certain key data, the incompatibility of many independently developed systems, and the absence of standards for some attractive technologies.

In this report, the second phase of a three-year study by the Committee on Maritime Advanced Information Systems of the National Research Council, a strategy is presented for overcoming the major barriers and deficiencies and providing a minimum level of maritime safety information nationwide. In this phase of the study, the committee concentrated on maritime information systems that promote safety, which is the area of greatest need. The committee did not examine in detail the relationship between navigation safety and maritime transportation efficiency or evaluate information systems that promote efficiency; the committee believes, however, that these issues deserve further attention.

Public and Private Roles for Maritime Information Systems that Promote Safety

Federal leadership, backed by input and support from the private sector, will be required to enhance maritime safety information systems. Despite the growing number and diversity of port stakeholders participating in local, regional, and national planning and other activities that affect maritime commerce, the role of the federal government is critical. Stakeholder involvement is now considered essential to the design, implementation, and operation of appropriate information systems, partly because of the unique needs of each port, but mostly because recent federal budget cutbacks have resulted in the delay or cancellation of the deployment, upgrading, and operations of some maritime safety information systems. Nonfederal support is being sought through public-private partnerships for some federally developed systems, such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS).1

Although growing stakeholder involvement is a positive trend, it is important to remember that the federal government has an acknowledged historical mission to ensure navigation safety. The willingness of local stakeholders to pay

1  

PORTS gathers wind, current, wave, and other data from sensors installed on buoys and transmits the information in real-time to central stations and individual users. Full systems are installed in five U.S. ports.



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--> Executive Summary The future safety of maritime transportation in the United States—a major factor in the nation's international trade and economic well-being—will depend heavily on the quality of port and waterways information systems. Many formal studies, as well as informal discussions among port users, have detailed the shortcomings of existing maritime information systems and called for quick remedies. The demands for improvements are becoming increasingly urgent as only scattered, minimally funded system upgrades are made and oceanborne trade continues to grow. Some of the most urgent needs of mariners are for accurate, real-time information about harbor and waterway conditions (e.g., water depth, weather, currents, and tides); voiceless communications systems that provide navigation and traffic data, as needed, without causing undue distractions; a consistent operating environment nationwide in terms of rules and equipment standards; effective vessel traffic management schemes that can deal with congestion and emergencies; and systems that promote quick responses to cargo spills and other hazards. The requisite technologies are available to meet all of these needs and have already been implemented in some foreign ports. Many U.S. ports and waterways lack adequate information services, although certain elements of advanced systems are now available in some locations. Barriers to improvements in information systems include the division of responsibilities for waterways management among multiple agencies at all levels of government, a lack of coordination among the federal agencies responsible for waterways management, inadequate budgets for some critical maritime programs, the high costs of some specialized technologies, stakeholder opposition to user fees, limited access to certain key data, the incompatibility of many independently developed systems, and the absence of standards for some attractive technologies. In this report, the second phase of a three-year study by the Committee on Maritime Advanced Information Systems of the National Research Council, a strategy is presented for overcoming the major barriers and deficiencies and providing a minimum level of maritime safety information nationwide. In this phase of the study, the committee concentrated on maritime information systems that promote safety, which is the area of greatest need. The committee did not examine in detail the relationship between navigation safety and maritime transportation efficiency or evaluate information systems that promote efficiency; the committee believes, however, that these issues deserve further attention. Public and Private Roles for Maritime Information Systems that Promote Safety Federal leadership, backed by input and support from the private sector, will be required to enhance maritime safety information systems. Despite the growing number and diversity of port stakeholders participating in local, regional, and national planning and other activities that affect maritime commerce, the role of the federal government is critical. Stakeholder involvement is now considered essential to the design, implementation, and operation of appropriate information systems, partly because of the unique needs of each port, but mostly because recent federal budget cutbacks have resulted in the delay or cancellation of the deployment, upgrading, and operations of some maritime safety information systems. Nonfederal support is being sought through public-private partnerships for some federally developed systems, such as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS).1 Although growing stakeholder involvement is a positive trend, it is important to remember that the federal government has an acknowledged historical mission to ensure navigation safety. The willingness of local stakeholders to pay 1   PORTS gathers wind, current, wave, and other data from sensors installed on buoys and transmits the information in real-time to central stations and individual users. Full systems are installed in five U.S. ports.

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--> for PORTS, for example, may not be the best measure of whether the national interest in maritime safety is being served. Only the federal government can ensure a consistent operating environment nationwide, enforce U.S. laws, and represent the United States at international standards-setting conventions. Effective federal leadership will require improved coordination among agencies. In the past, federal allocations for waterways have not been fully coordinated among agencies, and projects have not been subjected to interagency prioritization. This fragmented approach may have exacerbated the gaps in the information infrastructure. For example, many stakeholders have suggested that the recent federal emphasis on vessel traffic services (VTS), which is the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG),2 has overshadowed the long-standing need for a more basic tool—accurate nautical charts—which is the responsibility of NOAA. The key concern is that the underlying data represented on these charts (paper or electronic) be accurate, timely, and reliable. NOAA has developed a plan to accelerate surveying and charting but predicts that, at current funding levels, it will take 25 to 30 years to eliminate the existing backlog of outdated hydrographic surveys. Moreover, NOAA can digitize only a small amount of data in a way that meets international standards for the most advanced electronic charts. Other agencies responsible for providing waterways information include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which maintains federal navigation channels, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, which publishes Notices to Mariners and is responsible for several other maritime information systems. In 1995, recognizing the need for better communications among agency programs responsible for waterways and their use, the key federal departments and agencies formed the Interagency Committee on Waterways Management. This committee offers a mechanism for coordinating federal funding priorities with regard to nautical charting; electronic charts and other systems for delivering data to users; PORTS and other systems for collecting and disseminating real-time data on weather, currents, and tides; conventional aids to navigation (e.g., buoys, lights, and markers); electronic navigation systems, such as the differential global positioning system3; and electronic information-exchange systems. The interagency committee, which is chaired by a USCG division chief and includes representatives of five federal departments and agencies, was formed to "identify, evaluate, develop, and promote the implementation of federal policies and programs to ensure effective management of federal waterways." One of its objectives is to coordinate overlapping functions. Key Opportunities for Maritime Information Systems to Promote Safety In the committee's judgment, three types of information systems offer the greatest near-term potential to enhance overall maritime safety: hazardous cargo tracking systems, VTS systems, and automatic identification systems (AIS). A number of steps would have to be taken to maximize the benefits of these technologies, each of which is at a different stage of development. The committee also believes the full potential of maritime information systems will only be realized if significant national attention is paid to upgrading and maintaining the underlying infrastructure including: reliable and accurate waterways data, common standards for technology, adequate training for personnel, and effective communications networks. This infrastructure is primarily a federal responsibility. Hazardous Cargo Tracking Systems Although petroleum and other hazardous commodities are frequently carried by vessels transiting U.S. waters, the USCG does not have an electronic information system for tracking hazardous cargo. Instead, it relies on paper records and the assistance of vessel and shipping terminal personnel. A number of port closings and other shipping delays have been caused by the difficulties in identifying cargoes from spills, fires, or other incidents. The only federal agency that currently operates an electronic cargo-tracking system, the U.S. Customs Service, does so for purposes of enhancing transportation efficiency, not safety, and is not a traditional maritime agency. These systems include electronic manifests from most cargo vessels sailing within, or planning to enter, U.S. waters. The USCG has explored the possibility of accessing the U.S. Customs Service records on hazardous cargo, but a workable information-exchange system has yet to be arranged. The development of such a system, whether based on this data or some other mechanism, would clearly improve emergency responses to incidents on board vessels and in port terminals. Vessel Traffic Services The USCG is in the process of implementing a new program to meet the needs of key U.S. ports and waterways that do not have adequate VTS systems while also satisfying the concerns of local port stakeholders. Formal, objective criteria for selecting ports with the greatest need for VTS, however, have yet to be developed. Moreover, the USCG has not achieved consistency among the eight existing VTS systems it operates or among the various vessel traffic information services (VTIS) operated by a variety of other organizations (e.g., federal, state, and private entities and 2   In general, the USCG is responsible for the enforcement of maritime law, port safety and security, providing aids to navigation, and search and rescue operations. 3   The DGPS enables civilian mariners to fix their vessel positions very accurately by using data broadcast by the USCG to correct signals from a military radio navigation system that uses satellite transmissions.

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--> combinations thereof). Mariners need—and want—a consistent operating environment internationally, which will require the establishment of uniform guidelines for both VTS and VTIS systems. The need for consistency is heightened by the prevalence of foreign vessels and crews in U.S. waters. The effectiveness of VTS and VTIS systems would be maximized if they all provided the capabilities judged to be most essential to navigation safety and they included compatible equipment designed to the highest standards. The committee does not believe it is necessary, or even desirable, for all systems to use the exact same technological tools. Automatic Identification Systems AIS promises significant safety benefits, simplicity of operation, voiceless communications, and compatibility with a range of traffic management schemes (including VTS).4 AIS enables mariners and VTS watchstanders to identify and distinguish specific vessels that otherwise appear as identical "blips" on a video display or radar overlay.5 Another important advantage of AIS is the low cost (relative to many other technologies) of the equipment carried by participating vessels. AIS and similar systems have been used in Prince William Sound, Alaska, as well as in Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The USCG has recently initiated an AIS demonstration in the New Orleans region of the lower Mississippi River. For AIS to be effective as a safety measure, all vessels (or at least vessels of certain sizes using specific waterways) would have to carry the same basic information systems and operate them according to uniform standards. Many port stakeholders and the USCG support universal standards and carriage requirements for AIS. The requirements could be generic, but the international character of the shipping industry and the prevalence of foreign-flag vessels in U.S. waters argue for systems that meet international standards. Recommendations Recommendation 1. The Interagency Committee on Waterways Management should coordinate the efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to develop an integrated, comprehensive plan for maintaining the navigation information infrastructure for all significant U.S. ports and waterways and should solicit consistent, long-term support (public and private) to implement the plan. Recommendation 2. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs Service should develop a system to disseminate electronic information on hazardous cargo automatically from the Customs Service's cargo-tracking database for the purpose of improving emergency responses to spills, fires, and other incidents. Recommendation 3. The U.S. Coast Guard should continue to move forward, in consultation with local port stakeholders, with its comprehensive national effort to implement vessel traffic services in key U.S. ports and waterways where such systems are needed. Periodic assessments of port safety should be made to keep plans up to date. The U.S. Coast Guard should also provide a uniform national system of traffic management implemented through coordinated federal vessel traffic services and locally adopted vessel traffic information services systems. Specifically, the U.S. Coast Guard should take the following steps while moving forward with the overall program: develop, standardize, and implement objective criteria for selecting ports to be served by federally funded vessel traffic services while upgrading existing systems and implementing new systems that are urgently needed develop training, certification, watchstanding, and operating standards for vessel traffic services applicable to all services regardless of whether or not they are federally operated as the competent authority, ensure that all shore-based vessel traffic management activities, regardless of who operates them, comply with established international standards facilitate communication among ports regarding lessons learned about the implementation of these systems Recommendation 4. The U.S. Coast Guard should work expeditiously toward the implementation of international carriage requirements for electronic navigation and identification/location systems for all major vessels using U.S. ports and should continue to take expeditious actions to provide communications frequencies to ensure that automatic identification systems are internationally compatible. 4   AIS is one of various technological tools available for, and used in, VTS installations. For example, radar and closed-circuit television, which have traditionally been used by traffic managers for the surveillance of congested waterways, do not require that vessels carry special equipment. Newer technologies, such as AIS, can provide more precise vessel identification and position information but require that vessels carry transponders. 5   AIS consists of a shipboard transponder operating in the VHF maritime band that can automatically send vessel information (e.g., identification, position, heading, length, beam, type, draft, and hazardous cargo carried) to other ships, as well as to shore. The receiving stations can display the locations of all transponder-equipped vessels on an electronic chart or radar screen.