Draft SOW outlines advanced traffic-control system for ships

The Coast Guard released a draft statement of work last month for a new system that is designed to reduce the number of vessel accidents in ports and busy waterways by providing ships with up-to-the-minute data on traffic conditions on the water.

The Ports and Waterways Safety System (PAWSS) would provide the equivalent of air traffic control for the nation's ports and waterways. PAWSS will be based on off-the-shelf products that will automatically collect process and disseminate information on the movement and location of ships in ports and on busy waterways such as the Mississippi River.

"PAWSS will enhance the safety in ports by allowing unimpeded vessel traffic so they can make it through ports without accidents " said Capt. Dan Farrell project manager for PAWSS at the Coast Guard. "PAWSS will minimize [pilot] distraction to allow them to concentrate on piloting the vessel. It also will give them more information sooner so if a ship has to slow down it has time...."

PAWSS is based on new Automated Identification System (AIS) technology that depends on transponders on board ships to automatically collect and transmit information on a ship's location speed and direction. Many ships do not have transponders and would have to purchase them to participate in the new traffic-control system. The Coast Guard does not immediately plan to require that ships be equipped with transponders but does plan to buy about 100 transponders to be installed on private ships late next year under a separate contract to test the AIS technology.

Pilots rely on voice communications to transmit information which can be unreliable or arrive too late to be of any use. "Now pilots bring vessels in and out of harbors based on what they see and what they can't see " Farrell said. "In some ports that are very congested it's a question of who can tell who is around them. Also it's difficult to know who is approaching during inclement weather."

Under PAWSS a Vessel Traffic Center facility will receive vessel movement data from the AIS surveillance sensors vessels and other sources to monitor traffic on the water. PAWSS also will provide two-way voice communications electronic charts National Weather Service weather predictions and AIS and radar images. PAWSS is scheduled to operate in the port of New Orleans next year and will be rolled out to other ports nationwide once the need and benefit have been identified Farrell said. The agency will issue task orders under the seven-year PAWSS contract to expand the system nationwide. "New Orleans will get the system first because it is the busiest port and we also [decided] it would get the greatest benefit from the system."

Last year Congress killed a similar Coast Guard program called Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) 2000 because the agency needed to generate more user support and better define its requirements. With PAWSS the Coast Guard has built user support and defined the requirements better Farrell said.

Bruce Carriker director of VTS marketing at Denbridge Digital which specializes in vessel traffic management and radar processing display systems said PAWSS is important not only because it will increase safety but also because it brings the latest technology to port management. Unlike Europe and Canada U.S. ports are not privatized. As a result only about four or five ports in the country have VTS systems that have the same applications as the new system the Coast Guard plans to develop Carriker said.

"The United States is 20 years behind in the way it does port management because it's not a competitive issue here " he said. "Port competition is high in other countries. In Singapore for example they use VTS to manage anchorage so they can get as many ships in port as possible. The longer a ship is at dock the lower its ability to make money."

The request for proposals for PAWSS is expected to be released in October or November and awarded late next year. The contract to develop and integrate PAWSS in New Orleans is valued between $2 million and $6 million.

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