VTS Analyzing Neeed, Cost & Safety In U.S. Ports
The U.S. Coast Guard's (USCG; planned expansion of the radarbased vessel traffic service (VTS) system — dubbed VTS 2000 — is a project which was recently analyzed by the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO found that support for the VTS 2000 project was not widespread, with objections mainly limited t6 the cost/benefit ratio of the system to a particular port. Most opposed user fees or other funding approaches that would pass the cost of VTS 2000 from the federal government to those using the system. While the debate will continue, the GAO does report that the port of New Orleans would be a big benefactor of the technology. The estimated net benefit of installing a VTS in this location is $253.7 million (see Table 1).
Age-Old Battle: Safety vs. Cost The cost to implement the VTS 2000 project is estimated between $260 to $310 million, with about $42 million in federal funds for operation each year if, as planned, VTS is installed at 17 locations. At present, the USCG plans to pay these costs from its budget, and not pass them on to local ports or users (i.e. shipping companies). System development is broken down into many areas, including: software development; system design; system testing; contracting; construction of land based support facilities; and system engineering. The GAO's investigation centered on eight of 17 potential ports which are considered candidates for VTS. It is worthy of mention, however, that development of VTS 2000 has not proceeded to the point where a great deal of site-specific information is available. In fact, the USCG does not plan to determine how many of the 17 ports under consideration should operate VTS 2000 systems until fiscal year 2000, and development plans have not reached the stage where specific components have been selected for any port.
In addition, most of the shipping industry professionals in the ports targeted by the GAO said they had lacked any involvement to date with the VTS 2000 program, although the USCG is expected to work more closely with these stakeholders as more specifics emerge.
However, at the four ports where VTS systems already exist (Houston/Galveston, Los Angeles Long Beach, Philadelphia/Delaware Bay and San Francisco), most key stakeholders said that the existing systems were sufficient and were needed. At two of the ports, users were already providing financial support. At the remaining two, stakeholders interviewed seemed willing to fund determine the presence of vessels in and around ports, and provides information to vessels such as: traffic; tides; weather conditions; and port emergencies. Other safety measures include training vessel operators, improving navigational aides (such as buoys and markers), dredging wider, deeper some type ot v l o operation it necessary to ensure that VTS coverage continues.
Several key issues will have an effect, it seems, on the establishment of privately funded or privately operated VTS systems. The GAO found that these include the private sector's ability to fund the initial start-up costs of such a system, the private sector's exposure to liability, and the USCG's role in planning and overseeing a privately funded system.
VTS A VTS system is one of several methods for improving navigational safety and protecting the marine environment. A VTS system helps channels and inspecting vessels. Under authority of the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972, as amended, the USCG operates VTS systems in eight ports in the U.S. Operation and maintenance costs for these systems totaled about $19 million in 1995, and the costs were borne by the USCG.
To better analyze the need for VTS, a Port Needs Study was conducted, and two sets of locations as possible candidates for VTS were ascertained (see Table 1).
Of the 15 ports analyzed, it was shown that 10 would enjoy a net benefit from a new or improved VTS system in 15 years. The study's data indicates that over the first 15 years after a switch to a new system, there may be little marginal net benefit in making the conversion at any of the ports with existing radarbased VTS systems.
The USCG developed an initial proposal in FY '93 to address the Port Needs Study. The USCG said that the expanded or enhanced use of VTS systems would reduce the risk of maritime accidents and support other USCG activities, including national defense and law enforcement. Through greater automation of vessel traffic data under VTS 2000, the USCG also expects to be able to more efficiently carry out its waterway management responsibilities. Procuring The System The initial development phase will cost $69 million, and is scheduled for completion in 1999. If all phases are implemented, they are scheduled for completion in FY '04.
The USCG, which is in the early stages of acquisition, plans to select a single systems integration contractor for the project by the first fiscal quarter of FY '97. The contractor will develop computer software, procure hardware (radar, closed circuit television and radios), integrate these components of the system and determine what type of VTS 2000 equipment will be installed at each port. The USCG estimates that the contractor will be needed through the year 2006 if systems are installed in all 17 locations.
Starting in 1998, the USCG plans to install the first system in New Orleans and Los Angeles/Long Beach. Starting in 2000, it plans to install the system in Port Arthur/Lake Charles, Houston/Galveston and Corpus Christi. (Note: While final decisions on VTS have not been made, these five ports were identified as having the highest priority.) The key to the ultimate scope and timeline of implementation of the VTS 2000 program hinges on an undergoing study. Last June, several federal agencies including the USCG, the Advanced Research Projects Administration, the Maritime Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association commissioned a study by the Marine Board of the National Research Council to assess the implementation of advanced information systems for maritime commerce. Among other things, the Marine Board will address the role of the public and private sectors in developing and operating VTS systems, and will examine user fees and trust funds as possible funding sources. The interim report is due out this month, and the USCG plans to use the report in decisions on the VTS 2000 project.
In its conclusion, the GAO admitted that there is an acknowledged need to improve waterway safety. At the same time, it mandates that difficult choices need to be made, and important questions need to be answered, such as: how many ports need the system; how much will it cost; and if there are more cost-effective solutions available. GAO suggests that the USCG immediately open lines of communications with key stakeholders at the ports under consideration for VTS 2000, as a means of both gathering support and/or developing possible alternatives.