Fun Facts about U.S. Maritime Seaports:
  • More than 99 percent of the U.S. overseas trade by weight and 64 percent by value are moved by the nation's seaports
  • The U.S. has 360 commercial ports serving recreational watercraft, barges, ferries, and ocean-going cargo and passenger ships
  • In 2007, seaports created employment opportunities for more than 13.3 million Americans and waterborne commerce contributed approximately $3.15 trillion overall to the U.S. economy
  • Large vessels are becoming the new standard, with 47 percent of ocean fleet under "order" made up of 10,000+ TEUs
  • Of the top 25 ports in the world, 17 are in Asia, four are in Europe, and only two are in the U.S. (LA/LB and NY)

Especially since 9/11, U.S. ports are primarily focused on security, operations, and safety. The confluence of three major factors – 9/11, wireless communications, and the widening of the Panama Canal – are fundamentally changing the way ports will operate; ports have not experienced anything similar since the containerization of cargo almost 40 years ago. So much is changing so quickly that for the ports, it’s like changing a tire on a moving car.

The tragic events of 9/11 were a game changer for all Americans – and ports, too. The Maritime Transportation Safety Act of 2002 dusted off existing, but unenforced, World War II waterfront regulation and ushered in a new era for port security.  In the coming months, the top U.S. ports will also be required to comply with the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) rules to increase security throughout the port.

The explosive growth of wireless communications, increase in broadcast capacities and smart devices with the ability to use global positioning data for accurate cargo tracking (with the right equipment to less than one meter) are considered disruptive innovation, which will require not only careful implementation, but a willingness to change policies and procedures.  Port operators increasingly are looking at the use of wireless communications to improve operations and increase efficiencies.

The Panama Canal is handling more traffic and larger ships than its original builders could have imagined.  The Panama Canal Authority will open new larger locks and deeper canals capable of servicing significantly larger cargo ships. For container ships, the capacity will go up to 13,000, 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) with the current lock/canal capacity at about 5,000 TEUs.

The new larger container ships will undoubtedly stress current terminal operations. At more than 25 moves per hour per crane, five cranes will need up to six days in port for a full discharge and reload. Terminals need to anticipate longer port calls in planning contracts and berthing. The big question is how does a port effectively make major infrastructure improvements and changes while cargo is motion 24/7 without serious risk to the current operations?

To be ready for the approaching perfect storm of increased security, expanding use of wireless solutions and the ever-growing amount of cargo, East and West Coast ports are aggressively enhancing and updating wharfs, the backlands (cargo handling areas), gate complexes, and in-shore transportation networks. These are the new normal: integrated detection and surveillance; video integration between security, operations and safety; interoperable voice communications across the workforce, law enforcement and first responders; automatic management of events (both operations and security); comprehensive automation of gate systems (use of biometrics and less than one minute transaction time); and use of “off the shelf” software, which can be integrated with other software and devices.

From the list of challenges it is easy to see that there is a sizeable IT infrastructure component. Ports have a long, rich history, which serves them well but can hinder progress and willingness to embrace new technology. The ports need a proven and trusted partner who puts the customer first and has the bench strength of thought leadership, vertical expertise, library of industry best practices, sound business practices (such as Lean Six Sigma) and mobility IP.


Ed Merkle is the Principal Consultant for Public Safety and Maritime on the Solutions Sales Team at Motorola Solutions, Inc.


Learn more about Motorola’s suite of solutions for Airports and Seaports here.

Learn more about seaports and shipping facts and solutions here: