Op/Ed: Safeguarding Our Marine Transportation System

By Rear Admiral John Nadeau

The U.S. Coast Guard has the enduring responsibility to safeguard the MTS and enable the uninterrupted flow of maritime commerce. 

Our great Nation’s vast network of navigable waterways, deepwater ports and protected harbors are natural economic assets and provide unfettered access to the world’s two largest oceans. This powerful maritime capability sustains America’s national security and fuels economic prosperity through the 25,000 mile Marine Transportation System (MTS). The MTS supports thousands of ships and 250,000 American jobs, and serves as a $4.5 trillion economic lifeblood of the global economy, connecting Americans to domestic and global markets. It is critical infrastructure, and even the slightest disruptions to the MTS can have devastating impacts to the livelihood of all Americans.
The U.S. Coast Guard has the enduring responsibility to safeguard the MTS and enable the uninterrupted flow of maritime commerce. This duty is becoming more challenging because the landscape of the marine environment is changing. Emerging technologies—the increased complexity in vessel designs, propulsion systems and operations; automation, robotics and networked systems; and new methods for offshore natural resource exploration, production and transportation—all create operating efficiencies and improvements for our just-in-time global supply chain. Yet, these same advancements can create concerns as well, as increasingly complex regulatory, legal and operational challenges must be addressed to prevent costly disruptions. 
While rapid technological acceleration and digital integration pose challenges and can be risk aggravators, these factors also present opportunities for our Service to better enable commerce and safeguard the MTS. The Coast Guard must adapt and transform to leverage this technological wave to continue to keep pace with the technological advancements within the maritime industry and protect our economic lifeblood. The Coast Guard remains vigilant to manage unique risks and vulnerabilities to critical maritime infrastructure. The Coast Guard strives to build resiliency in the MTS and continues to work closely with our industry partners to develop and implement policy for rapid response and recovery operations when waterways and port closures occur. 
For example, following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, the Coast Guard employed electronic aids to navigation (e-ATON) to temporarily mark the location of buoys and other physical aids that were destroyed or damaged along the Gulf Coast. The location of the individual e-ATONs, which were transmitted over the Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS), could be “seen” by any mariner with a radar or electronic charting system capable of displaying AIS information. Additionally, as a backup to the NAIS network, a portable AIS system was deployed to the effected regions in Texas. The system provided the ability to broadcast e-ATON in areas where NAIS did not cover. These efforts contributed to the reopening of affected ports several days earlier than originally anticipated. This is just one example of many that highlight how we leverage new technologies to ensure the MTS offers reliable and secure solutions to navigational challenges. 
The Coast Guard will accelerate integration of modern navigation systems into a world-class network of buoys and beacons. American economic global competitiveness depends on a modern, state-of-the-art intermodal ports and waterways network. To achieve this, the Coast Guard must leverage technological advancements, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics to keep in step with emerging trends and better manage risk. Working with industry, the Coast Guard can smartly balance traditional navigation structures while creating the next generation waterways management systems, adapting regulatory frameworks, applications and standards to emerging technologies and the changing maritime domain. 
Moreover, the Coast Guard must recapitalize its antiquated aids to navigation vessels, which are vital infrastructure needed to support the proper functioning of the MTS. An alarming number of Coast Guard buoy and construction tenders remain in the active Coast Guard inventory well beyond their service life, jeopardizing the Service’s organic capability to establish, maintain, and repair beacons and buoys in America’s waterways. Mariners depend on fixed and floating aids to navigation to safely navigate and prevent catastrophic accidents such as collisions, allisions and groundings. These Coast Guard vessels maintain and repair the fixed and floating aids to ensure they are properly positioned to act like road signs on the waterways. 
The Coast Guard must strengthen an adaptive workforce that is comfortable operating in volatility amid the rapid acceleration of technology, maintaining awareness over marine industry trends and innovations that have the potential to transform, or possibly disrupt, the maritime transportation sector. The Coast Guard will judiciously expand the use of Third Party Organizations (TPOs) to approve commercial vessel plans, conduct surveys and issue certain required certificates on its behalf. At the same time, the Coast Guard will strengthen third-party oversight, auditing, and integrated risk management to ensure the highest standards of compliance. 
As the Subchapter M compliance date grows closer, the Coast Guard is taking several steps to minimize negative impacts and ensure all parties are fully prepared, including multiple training opportunities and a variety of industry outreach efforts. The goal is a smooth transition for both Coast Guard and industry members that does not impede commerce. The overall intent is not only to bring this part of the maritime industry into compliance with Subchapter M regulations. Rather, it is a model of the increased level of commitment the Coast Guard is taking throughout the maritime industry to jointly create a safer and more resilient MTS for the future.
Any disruption to the MTS, whether man-made or natural, is a major event that can result in a cascading and potentially devastating impact on the domestic and global supply chain and, consequently, America’s economy and national security. To best facilitate maritime commerce, ensure unrestricted and unimpeded trade and travel through America’s waterways, the Coast Guard will continue to improve its capabilities and rely on its strong partnerships among all members of the maritime community. Working together, we can ensure the MTS will remain healthy and support America’s economic prosperity. 
The Author
Rear Admiral John Nadeau is Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy, USCG.
(As published in the February 2018 edition of Marine News)
Marine News Magazine, page 28,  Feb 2018

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