data. A number of port closings and other shipping delays have been caused by difficulties encountered by public safety personnel trying to identify unknown cargo after spills, fires, and other incidents. Time is of the essence in an emergency, and real-time access to electronic data on hazardous cargoes would be much quicker than the current practice of relying on paper records and hoping that marine terminal and vessel personnel who can identify cargoes are available.

Conclusion 2. The safety of U.S. ports and waterways would be enhanced if the USCG and local emergency response personnel had access to electronic manifest data for commercial cargo vessels.

Recommendation 2. The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs Service should develop a system to disseminate automatically electronic information on hazardous cargo from the existing cargo-tracking database to emergency response organizations and personnel.

Improving Vessel Traffic Management

The USCG is implementing a 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. The committee's interim report recommended that the Coast Guard involve local stakeholders and promote public/private partnerships in its efforts to implement VTS systems in ports with identified safety needs, and the Coast Guard has incorporated these recommendations into its current program. However, the committee still has some concerns about maintaining national standards of operation and accommodating local needs and circumstances. Mariners need consistent rules of operation and compatible equipment worldwide. The committee is concerned about the inconsistencies among VTS systems and the VTIS systems operated by a variety of organizations (e.g., federal, state, and private entities and combinations thereof). Mariners need—and want—a consistent operating environment, which can only be provided if uniform guidelines are devised for VTS and VTIS systems. Furthermore, the effectiveness of these systems will be maximized if they all use compatible equipment designed to the highest standards and if they provide the most essential capabilities for navigation safety.

Conclusion 3. Minimum system design and operational standards compatible with established international standards would enable VTS and VTIS systems to maintain a baseline level of safety nationwide.

Recommendation 3. The U.S. Coast Guard should continue to move forward, in consultation with local port stakeholders, with a comprehensive national effort to implement vessel traffic services systems in key U.S. ports and waterways where such systems are needed. Periodic assessments of safety needs should be made to keep 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 systems and local vessel traffic information services systems. 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 systems; upgrade existing systems; implement new systems that are urgently needed
  • develop training, certification, watchstanding, and operating standards applicable to all vessel traffic services regardless of who operates them
  • 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 on lessons learned about the implementation of these systems

Universal Carriage Requirements

Consistent traffic management depends on all vessels, or at least all vessels of certain sizes using specific waterways, carrying the same basic information systems and operating them according to uniform standards. A VTS system that incorporates AIS will not be very effective if, for example, only 50 percent of the cargo ships in local waterways carry transponders. The requirements for AIS can be generic, but the international character of the shipping industry and the prevalence of foreign-flag vessels in U.S. waters argue for the carriage of systems that meet international standards. The presence of significant numbers of large ferries, tugs, and other vessels operating in certain waterways argues for carriage requirements that cover that traffic as well.

Conclusion 4. To achieve the committee's vision of the future, all major vessels must be required to carry certain advanced navigation information systems so they can participate in traffic management schemes and navigate safely in and out of all U.S. ports.

Recommendation 4. The U.S. Coast Guard should work toward the implementation of international carriage requirements for electronic navigation and identification/location systems on board all major vessels using U.S. ports and should continue to take steps to provide necessary communications frequencies to ensure the international compatibility of automatic identification systems.

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