decided to focus its limited time and resources on opportunities for enhancing maritime safety, which emerged as the more serious public problem.

The committee's next challenge was to differentiate safety issues from efficiency issues, or at least to define their relationship, for purposes of this analysis. Is a safer port also a more efficient port? During numerous meetings and site visits, the committee observed that port stakeholders generally support proposals that would enhance safety—but often consider them too expensive, especially if they must be supported by user fees. Port directors and shippers generally want to maximize cargo efficiency for economic reasons and, therefore, prefer that safety regulations not be too onerous, which sometimes conflicts with the USCG's attempts to carry out its mission. Private companies, however, also recognize that ports and companies with reputations for frequent accidents may lose their public stature, as well as business. Thus, there seems to be a useful and creative tension between the USCG's efforts to promote safety and the private sector's efforts to promote efficiency, which could lead to an appropriate balance between them. There also appears to be a dynamic relationship between safety and efficiency, although it is difficult to define. The committee did not dwell on this issue but believes it deserves further attention. However, at least one area of overlap was noted. The implications for both safety and efficiency of tracking hazardous cargo has not been fully recognized by the federal government. For more than 10 years, the U.S. Customs Service has maintained an automated system that allows carriers to transmit electronic manifest data on all imported cargo while en route to the United States so the Customs Service can determine, prior to arrival, whether to examine the cargo or release it. Almost 75 percent3 of ships entering U.S. ports now use this system, which is linked to more than 1,500 trade participants, including ocean carriers, data processing centers, port authorities, and inland ports (Aylward, 1996). The USCG, however, does not use this system for tracking hazardous cargo, relying instead on paper records and port-specific notification of emergency response teams (see Appendix C and Appendix D). The committee has heard anecdotal reports of instances in which major ports had to be closed for hours at a time while mysterious hazardous cargoes were being identified. The USCG might be able to use information about hazardous cargoes from the electronic manifests in the U.S. Customs database in near real-time if certain adjustments were made in the system. Although previous discussions of this possibility failed to produce a solution (see Box 2-1), the issue is important enough to warrant further examination in another venue. The confidentiality of the data probably could be maintained, but substantial funding might be required to establish a USCG system that could perform necessary translations and keep track of the data.

BOX 2-1 Tracking Hazardous Materials

Carriers, terminal operators, port authorities, and service centers provide automated manifest data to the U.S. Customs Service for cargo arriving in, or departing from, U.S. ports. In recent years, the USCG and Customs Service have explored the feasibility of using these data for hazardous material notifications but have concluded that the data lacked sufficient detail for this immediate application (Kim Santos, Project Leader for Field Operations, U.S. Customs, personal communication, July 6, 1998). Some of the Customs Service data provide records for hazardous material descriptions and class code entries. However, reporting the quantity, weight, and other details of a cargo is not currently mandatory, so these data have limited value to the USCG.

Another possible mechanism for hazardous material notification is the Ship Notice/Manifest transaction created for the procurement process of the Electronic Commerce Program Office of the U.S. Department of Defense. From these data, a detailed list of the contents of a shipment and descriptions of their physical characteristics can be obtained and sent to one or more selected receivers. Hazardous material code qualifiers allow shippers to use U.S. Department of Transportation or IMO identifiers as cargo descriptors. If the Customs Service were to integrate this transaction set into its new database, the Automated Commercial Environment, then a common mechanism might be established for reporting details on cargo shipments that could satisfy the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the USCG.

Growing Importance of Nonfederal Stakeholders

The convergence of public and private roles in maritime transportation is based on common interests, four of which are pertinent to the present study:

  • ensuring the safety of lives and cargo, avoiding


This figure was obtained from the U.S. Customs Web site (, August 1998.

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