Los Angeles and Long Beach ports have long been the primary source of pollution on the US West Coast, which also happens to be the smoggiest region in the country. Since June of this year, the accumulation of diesel-powered container ships and a large number of cargo-moving trucks in the ports has exacerbated the situation. Residents living near these ports face the highest risk of cancer from the air pollution in that region, which is primarily caused by smoke-belching ships anchored at these ports. California has set a 2023 deadline for reducing smog and improving air quality, but the situation on the ground has deteriorated in recent years. Especially, with the ongoing congestion at the LA port.
While efficient ports are critical for the economic development of their surrounding areas, the associated ship traffic, cargo handling in the ports, and hinterland distribution can all hurt the environment as well as the economy.
Port congestion and Pollution:
When a vessel arrives at a port and is unable to berth, it must wait at the anchorage until a berth becomes available. This is a problem that only gets worse over time and Southern California ports have been facing congestion issues like never before. A huge crowd of container ships has been constrained to queue outside Los Angeles and Long Beach, causing the latest supply chain disruption in the United States.
The ships are stranded outside two of the busiest ports of the country, which together handle 40% of all containerized cargo entering the US.
The number of ships awaiting entry into the largest US gateway for trade with Asia reached a record high, increasing delays for businesses attempting to replenish inventories during one of the busiest times of the year for seaborne freight.
On September 12, Port of Los Angeles Director Gene Seroka warned that a “significant volume” of goods was “coming our way throughout this year and into 2022.”
Consequently, on September 18, a record 73 ships were trapped outside the port – nearly double the number as that of the previous month.
The current congestion — with both ports setting records regularly — exemplifies cargo surge since the pandemic. The backlog has increased pollution and poses a threat of supply shortages ahead of the holiday shopping season.
In the age of ultrafast communication and GPS, it is hard to imagine that sailors once relied on the sky (i.e. constellations) to navigate their vessels in the high seas. However, not every sailor was a Viking, and this led to high chances of the ship landing somewhere it is not supposed to be (read: Christopher Columbus).
Fast forward to the 21st century, and we can do nothing but look back in awe at all the challenges sailors used to face back in the days. Since the 1990s, navigation in itself and shipping at large have undergone sea changes, thanks to the rampant evolution in AIS tech.
Now, humans have the rightful luxury of tracking their fleets on the seven seas with the help of a single click in real-time.
What was initially developed to function as a simple collision avoidance tool has now spiraled to form the heartbeat of global ship navigation? Yes, it is the Automatic Identification System (AIS) that we are talking about.
Currently, over half a million vessels actively use AIS for transmitting vessel data (mainly their location), which then gets collected by a receiver network deployed across the globe. FleetMon alone has a humongous database of over half a million vessels with users across 164 countries using FleetMon.com to track vessel movement.
Gone are the days when AIS used to be a tool for accident prevention. It is now a proven source of information for a wide variety of individuals ranging from maritime businesses that leverage its data to predict their growth, to researchers and analysts monitoring the supply chain.
As such, it is ever more important to know about AIS, at least the basics of it. The blog has been engineered for the same purpose, covering the 10 most important points about AIS and how you could benefit from it.
Navigation in itself is a multi-century old phenomenon, which has been there since mankind discovered what they could do with a piece of wood. However, modern ship navigation has experienced a lot of changes, and subsequent ‘rebirths’, over the last couple of decades.
One such year of rebirth was 1952: For the very first time, vessel routing services got introduced into the industry. 1952 is when vessels were retrofitted with a prototype that would later evolve into the Automatic Identification System (AIS) in the late 90s, something that ushered a new era in maritime navigation so to speak.
AIS data, when clubbed together, gives us all-around insights into the vessel involved, its speed, position, ship dimensions, as well as its draft, helping us identify when the ship was loaded or unloaded with its designated cargo. However, the last point is an application of various data points obtained via AIS, and not available via raw data obtained from the systems onboard.
AIS, as stated above, was originally meant for ensuring navigational safety, but has quickly proved to be a vital source of business intelligence for maritime personnel.
Let me tell you a story from an upcoming John McTiernan movie: A ship is sailing peacefully 200 nautical miles off the Nigerian coastline, literally being in the middle of nowhere. Out of the blue, pirates manage to strike the ship and end up boarding it eventually. The crew, in their natural response, gather in a safe room, fearing their safety.
However, the pirates set aloof in their efforts in entering the ship’s bridge. It takes them six hours to bypass the Citadel, but they do it eventually. The pirates manage to kidnap 15 crew members and unfortunately, kill one member in skirmishes. How will they be saved? And most importantly, who will save them?
Think this is a plot good enough to be a sequel to Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips? Well, think again.
Evidently, I lied to you before when I told you it was going to be the next John McTiernan classic. It isn’t. This happened in real life on board the containership MOZART, which, unlike its namesake musician, wasn’t very lucky. FleetMon reported about the piracy attack in Jan 2021.
So, welcome to the Gulf of Guinea, where militant activities, armed robberies, crew killings, and tanker boardings are as common as the morning light. Before delving deeper into the possible remedies to these acute problems and the factors behind them, let’s break the situation down to you so you have a coherent understanding of the same.
First came the pandemic in 2020, something that roiled shipping and disrupted the supply chains in and out of China, which soon spread out to the rest of the world like wildfire. And then came one of the biggest hurdles the logistics industry has faced in years, the closure of the Suez Canal, dubbed by some as a ‘crisis’ and rightly so.
An estimated 12% of the world’s trade passes through the Suez Canal daily, representing almost $10 billion in trade on a good day as per Llyod’s List. Serving as the link between rising Asian powerhouses and relatively wealthier Europe, it is undoubtedly the most important waterway in the world.
There’s no denying that the Suez Canal is the world’s most important waterway. The reason: about 12% of the global trade flowing through a single canal, one connecting two continents – Asia and Europe. The canal is so strategic that world powers have fought over the waterway since it was completed in 1869.
The French philosopher Voltaire gave this as a reference to the famed shipwrecks in the Bay of Biscay, a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea, off the coast of Spain.
The history of human navigation extensively documented shipwrecks off the infamous Spanish Bay, known to many as “The Valley of Death,” “The Vomiting Venus,” and “The Trunk of the Atlantic U-Boat Menace.”
Albeit with the advent of modern technology, improved vessel route prediction, as well as improvements in vessel designing, the number of fatalities in the Bay has considerably reduced. But this shouldn’t stop us from delving into the past! But before we do that, let’s explore the historical context so you know just why the Bay became so infamous among the sailing community back in the days.
The pandemic has been hard on almost all sectors, where many global economies were headed towards a close recession. It was only after when lockdown restrictions eased worldwide that the economic situation began to improve.
One of the sectors that suffered a deadly blow was the shipping industry. Consumer demands dried worldwide and ports were the first to feel the crunch. With declining tonnage throughout 2020, compared to 2019 levels, the only ports that benefited were transshipment hubs like Panama, where ships had to stop over when the US declared a complete lockdown.
Ever since consumer demands began picking up to pre-pandemic levels before Christmas last year, the port sector has seen significant changes. Now, American ports, being backed by considerable investments are eying for the future. New container terminals are being built with private-sector partners, showing the way for construction companies worldwide.
Any avid ship spotter or someone who has been on board a commercial ship knows that these are often painted red below the waterline. Since the ship hulls mostly remain underwater, one question that might be asked is ‘Why red is the color of choice?’ Well, the reason lies simply in shipping tradition – Oh, and worms!
Sandwiched between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz is the only sea passage connecting the Persian Gulf to the open ocean. In other words, it is the lifeline of the Arab world, the most notable among them being Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.
Although the narrowest point in the strait is just 33km wide, the shipping lanes in both directions are only 3km wide.
If you’ve been following maritime incidents, you’d know that this Strait is in the frontline when it comes to the battle between Iran and the United States. So much so that the United States Fifth Fleet, based in Manama, Bahrain, is responsible for protecting maritime shipping lanes in this region.