In Charleston, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) fulfills its traditional roles and is an active participant in most port advisory committees. Charleston does not have a vessel traffic services (VTS) system and is not a candidate for a VTS system in the eyes of either the USCG or the local port community. Except in emergencies, vessel traffic management is left to the pilots and waterways users.
The USCG does provide some real-time information services within the port. When notified that a navigational aid is extinguished, missing, or improperly located, the USCG notifies waterways users through the local navigational warning broadcasts on radio channel 22A. If they miss the broadcast, then waterways users can obtain the information by calling the local USCG office, accessing the NAVINFONET, or reading the next Notice to Mariners. (The USCG reports the problem to the Miami office for inclusion in the notices, which are updated weekly and mailed to subscribers.) The Charleston USCG office is creating a Web site and intends to include some of this information. Most port stakeholders say that timely reporting of this information is a low priority.
The USCG appears on all the National Weather Service (NWS) severe weather warning checklists and can rebroadcast information as a navigational warning as well as take the appropriate actions regarding waterways safety.
The U.S. Customs Service, working with the port authority, has been a leader in using advanced technology to promote efficiency. This agency has long collected cargo manifests electronically and provided pre-arrival and departure clearances of cargo, either through its own automated systems or through the Charleston Port Authority's Orion System (described below). The U.S. Customs Service appears to be moving steadily toward a paperless system that takes full advantage of available technology.
The Charleston office of the NWS serves the local maritime community in a number of ways. It provides the forecast information for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio broadcasts, including a specific Charleston harbor forecast. Weather forecasts can also be obtained by telephone recordings, which are updated several times a day. The Charleston station is manned around the clock and accepts calls requesting information.
The office maintains four severe weather warning call lists: (1) a special marine warning checklist, (2) a winter storm/high winds watch/warning checklist, (3) a tornado/ severe thunderstorm/flash flood watch/warning checklist, and (4) a coastal flood watch/warning checklist. The USCG, harbor pilots, and South Carolina Ports Authority appear on every checklist and are contacted by the NWS whenever severe weather is forecasted. Conditions favorable for harbor and coastal fog are also relayed to the checklist participants.
The NWS provides their weather radar picture to several approved and contracted vendors, which market the image and information to the maritime community. Updated radar information can be viewed on a computer monitor in near real-time. The pilots were the only stakeholders interviewed who used this service.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers generates considerable waterways information. The Corps is involved in several proposed dredging projects, and the hydrographic information generated is made available to the Charleston maritime community by mail.
The Charleston Port Authority uses its Orion System for U.S. Customs Service pre-arrival and departure clearances, as well as for inventory control. Initially, stakeholder participation in Orion was mandatory in the port. However, the system has since been eclipsed by the U.S. Customs Service's systems, and larger commercial stakeholders can now bypass Orion and go directly to these more sophisticated systems for clearance. Smaller commercial stakeholders who cannot afford a direct Customs interface still use Orion. The port authority intends to upgrade this prototype system and perhaps expand its functions to promote efficiency and keep the system viable.
Information concerning traffic congestion, berth space, navigational warnings, draft restrictions, and severe weather is gathered and exchanged by telephone and fax on an as-needed basis. The port authority does appear on the NWS severe weather warning lists. The port authority, harbormaster, and pilots coordinate their information by telephone