Waterway efficiency at the click of a mouse



Mickey Landry, Manager Marine Docks Valero Refinery, Port Arthur, Texas, USA


How AIS technology is benefiting marine operations for Valero, others

The 2005 Coast Guard mandate for commercial vessels to continuously transmit Automated Identification System (AIS) signals along US inland waterways and ports had been largely an issue of improving marine vessel information availability and dissemination of the information. Two years later, the regulation has produced a significant – albeit unintentional – opportunity for organisations like Valero to improve their maritime operations. In 2002, Valero Energy Corporation’s Port Arthur  Refinery focused on the fact that the petrochemical industry’s overall marine scheduling greatly lagged behind other areas of scheduling.

As North America’s largest oil refiner, Valero wished to see substantial improvements made with respect to the accuracy and availability of marine vessel information. Valero Port Arthur began to discuss the issue with other refiners in the Port Arthur area (Sabine- Neches waterway). As a result, Valero formed a joint team with three other refiners to address improving the information process associated with marine vessels for the purpose of improving marine scheduling and reducing demurrage costs.

Money not well spent

Case in point: Demurrage along the Sabine-Neches waterway in 2002 was approximately US$21 million. Unfortunately, data collection associated with this issue was difficult, and hinders a useful analysis in determining ways in which organisations can reduce such costs. Other operational initiatives, such as improving berth and resource scheduling efficiency at marine terminals, also suffered from a lack of concrete information.

As a result, the major commercial users along the Sabine began to express an interest in developing a data collection system to improve efficiency for all its stakeholders, including operators, agents, pilots, and service providers. This system would:

• Reduce demurrage costs by understanding the reason for delays

• Provide timely access to information for all waterway users

• Provide visibility of waterway traffic to all stakeholders

• Allow for collaboration between stakeholders to reduce delay

• Collect objective data to drive decision-making, policies and procedures

While the need was clear, the solution wasn’t. As discussions continued, the Sabine players concluded that any technology system implemented could not require significant additional hardware purchases or an extensive learning curve. The solution also needed to be as mobile as the users – allowing access to information from literally anywhere at any time.

PortVision – using existing technology for new purposes

The Sabine-Neches refiners partnered with Dean Rosenberg and his San Diego-based company AIRSIS to develop solutions to the marine vessel information dilemma. With a great deal of effort and vision by the industry team and AIRSIS, a new product was created called PortVision.

PortVision® is a Web-based solution that provides new levels of knowledge and transparency to maritime activities within US ports and inland waterways. The patent-pending system leverages the existing AIS technology and processes each unique signal – more than one million a day along the Sabine-Neches – to provide  real-time information about the location and status of vessels on the waterway. Users are able to view vessel locations and terminal docks as well as generate  automated email alerts to signal vessel departure or arrival, or the passing of user-defined points of interest. Historical playback and reporting features also offer expanded business opportunities to identify best practices and enhance Maritime Domain Awareness as well as better communicate with customers and partners.

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