News & Updates: Port Bureau News: October 2019

Captain's Corner: Pinball Wizard

Monday, November 4, 2019  
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By CAPT Bill Diehl, GHPB President

Last month, I made my yearly trip to take part in the Marine Exchange of North America’s (MISNA) annual meeting, which was held in Vancouver, BC. MISNA is a coalition of non-profit marine exchanges that track ships from New York to around the coast to Alaska. We use the MISNA umbrella to pool our vessel information to sell to domestic and global clients. The bulk of the meeting is not about our contracts, but area reports of what we are each doing. Most of the updates centered on the technology being used to push and collect information to make shipping better, faster, cheaper, and safer. For example, in Alaska we heard about the hundreds of AIS receiving stations they have deployed to track ships moving through Alaskan waters. Their system is used to alert authorities and orchestrate response operations when a vessel may be in trouble. They also are starting to transmit weather, tide, and current information to mariners through their AIS sites. Further south, Vancouver talked about their dissemination of port information via a smart phone app. The marine exchange in Los Angeles talked about their public-private partnership with Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service and their cybersecurity work to protect the information and communications they rely on as a port.

I used my time to discuss our work to make the port more efficient by syncing up the Harborlights ship movement information with facility dock information in the Pronto program, a vessel and terminal scheduling visibility platform developed by the Port of Rotterdam. Thanks to the generous sponsorship of Shell, we will be running a six to nine month trial of Pronto with chemical tankers and terminals in the port of Houston starting in January 2020. The Port Bureau Board of Directors has been focused on this effort for quite some time with the mindset that we need to work together to change the status quo to remain competitive as a port community. Pronto offers users one screen where all parties, from the line handlers and tugs to the pilots and terminals, can share and view high-level schedule information. The goal here is to increase the predictability of operations through information transparency, thus allowing us to more efficiently utilize assets and reduce turnaround time. More insights into port calls should also lead to higher safety levels, reduced emissions, and optimization of planning with other global ports.

Pronto has been up and running in Rotterdam for a while, and Shell has seen a marked improvement in the efficiency at their Moerdijk facility there. Based on that success, Shell has dedicated financial resources as well as Captain Steve Byrnes to support the trial. Of course, the 15-20 companies that have agreed to participate in the trials are also investing their time and talent in evaluating whether this is the right platform to integrate our information to get to the next level of efficiency as a port. Christine Schlenker is leading it up for the Port Bureau, and it is quite an exciting project.

After several days talking about new technology at the MISNA meeting, Annette and I worked our way down the coast to the San Francisco area to spend the weekend with my sister, Kathy, and her husband, Matt. On our way to lunch we came across the epitome of retro technology – a huge warehouse filled with 2,000+ pinball machines! Both Matt and I were excited by the nostalgic sight and immediately set to proving who was the real pinball wizard by lighting up the machine and setting off the bells! We had such a good time that Matt bought a machine. I’m not sure my sister was sold on bringing a pinball machine into their home, but I convinced Matt that he needed to go a little retro if he was going to compete to be the coolest guy on the block.

Let us know how we can help you remain competitive. Some of our ideas involve advancing technology, like Pronto, to see if we can make things faster and better. Sometimes we, too, just like to be a little more retro, like setting off the bells and whistles when you’ve hit those pinballs into wizard level!


About the Author

CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E. is president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau. Utilizing his 30+ years of marine safety and port operations experience, he guides the Port Bureau in bringing members and community partners together for cooperation and collaboration to improve and advance the port region.