products. Lightering also increases the number of trips required to deliver cargo to terminals, and, thus, increases the volume of traffic that must be accommodated safely.

Congestion has increased in some ports because competition for intermodal trade and shifts in trading patterns have led to the concentration of cargo at fewer ports (NRC, 1993). Congestion is also exacerbated by ongoing and projected changes in ship size and other characteristics (discussed later in this chapter). If U.S. ports fail to accommodate these changes, then cargo may be shifted to nearby foreign ports. Unfortunately, U.S. terminal upgrades are often delayed because of declining support from state and local governments and a variety of other reasons (MARAD, 1994). Thus, although it is difficult to determine actual performance levels because of inadequate data, especially data related to safety,5 continued attention to the safety and efficiency of U.S. ports and waterways is essential to the nation's economic well-being.

For all of these reasons, the need to enhance maritime information systems in the United States is growing. A number of recent studies have detailed the shortcomings of existing systems and planned upgrades (GAO, 1996a, 1996b; INTERTANKO, 1996; National Performance Review, 1996; NRC, 1994a, 1994b, 1996). The national stakeholder discussion group convened by the USCG in 1997 and 1998 to help develop new plans for vessel traffic services (VTS) confirmed the need for immediate attention to maritime information issues (National Dialog on Vessel Traffic Services, 1997; see Appendix B). It was also apparent that recent federal efforts to develop and fund maritime safety information systems have not met mariners' needs.

The demand for better maritime information systems is expected to grow as a result of trade patterns and trends. Forecasts predict continued growth in oceanborne trade, including oil imports to the United States (API, 1996). The condition of the U.S. maritime information infrastructure has implications for the nation's economy, both in terms of providing an attractive environment to shippers and in terms of handling a potential overload of information in a cost-efficient manner. Information systems also have environmental implications because, if properly designed and used, they can help mariners prevent and respond to accident-related spills. Furthermore, information systems can help address concerns raised by the prevalence of foreign-flag vessels in U.S. waters, a pattern that mariners say heightens the need for standardized navigation safety systems.

The remainder of this chapter outlines barriers to expanding maritime advanced information systems, the shortcomings of U.S. ports, and relevant trends in maritime transportation.

Barriers to Expanding Information Systems

Rapid advances in information technology in recent years could greatly improve business operations in the U.S. maritime industry and in the daily operations of ports and waterways. Advanced maritime information systems, used singly or in combination, could ameliorate many of the problems faced by mariners. Available systems include radio navigation aids that permit individual vessels to determine their positions with a high degree of accuracy, VTS systems that monitor shipping in specific waterways, and automated cargo-tracking systems that serve individual terminals. National systems, such as the massive U.S. Customs Service database, which links dozens of port users with federal agencies, are also in operation.

Although the technology is available to meet virtually every need, the implementation of these systems across the U.S. has been inconsistent, at best. Barriers to the widespread use of advanced information systems include the division of responsibilities for the management of U.S. waterways among multiple agencies at all levels of government, inadequate budgets for some critical maritime programs, the high costs of some specialized technologies, stakeholder opposition to paying for services that have traditionally been provided at no cost, limited access to certain key data, the incompatibility of many independently developed systems, the absence of standards for some attractive technologies, and the wide range and diversity of available systems. In general, the critical importance of the infrastructure (e.g., accurate real-time data and the training and qualification of system users) necessary to use these technologies effectively has not been appreciated. By contrast, many foreign maritime nations have been investing heavily in their ports, advanced maritime information systems, and supporting infrastructures (INTERTANKO, 1996; NRC, 1996).

Some U.S. maritime information systems are designed, funded, and operated by federal agencies; some are developed in house and used by ship operators, shipping terminals, port authorities, or pilots; and some are marketed by private vendors. Some systems are paid for by users, whereas others are government funded or are supported by a combination of funding sources. Some information stored in these systems is widely shared, but much of it is accessible only to a limited audience. Many systems have been developed and implemented in isolation and are not interconnected, or even compatible with, other databases. Few systems are accessible to all potentially interested users, which has left vast resources untapped and important needs unmet. The effectiveness of many systems is often compromised by an outmoded or inadequate supporting infrastructure.

The lessons that can be learned from the commercial use

5  

Accident data maintained by the USCG, principally through the Marine Investigation Module (part of the Marine Information System for Safety and Law Enforcement), are of limited utility for broad-scale analyses. The value of the data is compromised by several factors, including the integrity of the locally generated accident information and inaccuracies (Research and Special Projects Administration, 1995). Information about near-misses is also inadequate.



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