Captain’s Corner-Connecting With Information Can Improve Port-Wide Efficiency

Last month I was in Baltimore for the annual meeting of the marine exchanges in the U.S. (MISNA). The meeting is hosted by a different marine exchange each year, giving us the opportunity to see the other ports and share information about how we can address common challenges. As we also like to share what we love about our cities, the trips include a few maritime-related excursions. Our stop was to see the S.S. JOHN W. BROWN, one of the last two operational Liberty Ships in the United States out of the 2,710 built between 1941 and 1945. Our tour was conducted by 2nd Mate Liam Bauman, who gave us an excellent overview of its history and present-day educational mission. The BROWN is the product of an emergency shipbuilding program in World War II, and it is in remarkable condition for a ship constructed in 54 days, 76 years ago. The war effort required mass production of these simple, low costs ships. However, the fast, cheap construction processes led to hull fractures and a short life for most of the ships. Today the vessel serves to educate visitors about the country’s important maritime history during the war. 

CAPT Diehl, CAPT Kip Louttit USCG (Ret.)/Marine Exchange of Southern California,Capt Lynn Korwatch/Marine Exchange of San Francisco, Liz Wainwright/Merchant Exchange of Portland, and Liam Bauman, 2nd Mate/Project Liberty Ship.

We also spent an evening at the Baltimore Marine Exchange’s Annual Port Party & Shrimp Feast, held along the waterfront at Vane Brothers. While there, I met Vane president, John Duff, who offered a tour of the operations center. The most impressive part to me was the level of information sharing between Vane Brothers and their customers, including bunkering operations, launch services, and marine safety details.

Working in the busiest ship channel in the U.S., the stakeholders on the Houston Ship Channel are no strangers to the efficiencies gained by information sharing. By maintaining an undercurrent of competitive cooperation, which surges during times of need, the maritime players work toward improving both their own businesses while benefiting the greater port region. The Port Coordination Team (PCT) run by Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service is a prime example of this cooperation, and is now copied in other port regions. Activated only when necessary during disruptions caused by weather or other challenges, the PCT is used to quickly collate industry priorities to be able to efficiently respond to the most pressing needs of the ship channel stakeholders.

With the support of the Houston Pilots, stakeholders in and out of the port benefit from information sharing with the Harborlights vessel tracking system. From operators needing real-time schedule information about the movements in the port of Houston, to research institutions predicting future demands for a deeper and wider channel, the data provide critical insight for decision-makers.

However, it’s important to regularly revisit daily practices to ensure that we have not become complacent. During a recent chemical tanker efficiency test project, which is part of the Port Bureau’s Efficiency Committee, two companies in Houston identified some communication barriers or internal practices that had been unknowingly impairing information exchange between the companies. Projects like this will drive innovation and information sharing, and ultimately, improve efficiency along our ship channel.

Better data and better communication lead to better efficiency for everyone. We all have a vested interest in ensuring the flow of accurate and reliable information across our maritime highway. I have long said that predictability steers the shipping industry, and what better way to up the predictability factor than access to highly pertinent information? To me, even small increases in information sharing amongst stakeholders will pay significant dividends to this port community.

Take a look at some of the topics that are key to the marine exchanges around the country  below. As you consider the information, I hope it prompts some ideas about how significant the metrics of vessel movements can be in our maritime community. If you have not done so, I hope you will join in with our commitment to improve efficiency in Houston’s port region.

2018 MISNA Annual Meeting: Top 5 Common Themes from Across the Ports

1. Ships sizes are growing. More cargo can be carried with fewer vessel movements, so although several ports have seen flat or declining vessel movements, cargo volumes are stable or growing. Larger ships create challenges for improving port infrastructure to enable continued ship size growth and for managing onshore logistics with higher surges of cargo movements per vessel.

2.Port stakeholders are increasingly interested in information sharing. Marine exchanges are exploring ways to provide improved vessel movement data to their membership.

3.Most of the areas are seeing increased demand for industrial development. Not all projects are getting approved, however, as some regions have political or environmental requirements that inhibit business growth (Texas is obviously not one of those regions).

4.Many port stakeholders are concerned with two issues: the impacts of trade tariffs on cargo movements and the delays in getting permits for maintenance and construction. One marine exchange reported a 30% reduction in steel-carrying vessels this year due to tariffs. Another reported that a local terminal has been attempting to get a new dock permit for 4 years.

5.The marine exchanges and their members are interested in staying abreast of quickly-changing technology and cyber security demands.

CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E.
GHPB President

  • Date October 22, 2018
  • Tags 2018 October