Bridge Programs

10/23/2014: Coast Guard Commandant’s remarks from the American Pilots Association conference – Part 2

Tuesday, the American Pilots Association hosted a conference in Houston, Texas. Coast Guard Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft was a keynote speaker.

Zukunft addressed over 200 licensed marine pilots. His comments shared in this post are focused on domestic energy production, the Panama Canal expansion, cyber in the maritime domain and maritime innovation. The Commandant’s remarks on the Ebola outbreak can be viewed in the Part 1 post to this two-part post.

Maritime Commons is providing an excerpt of the key takeaways from Commandant’s remarks on Ebola for those of you who could not attend the conference…

Delivered by Adm. Paul Zukunft

Domestic energy production

One development that I’m paying close attention to is the American Energy Renaissance. Just a year ago…who would have guessed that the United States would be ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia for oil production today?

The United States now produces 14 percent of the worlds’ hydrocarbon liquids – oil, condensate and natural gas liquids – and, we produce 20 percent of the world’s natural gas.

According to estimates, we’re producing roughly 2 million barrels of oil a day more than we were a year ago.

As you know, this is especially significant for the United States where 90% of our energy moves by water, and we’re producing and transporting nearly twice as much energy as we were a decade ago.

I look at this as a capacity issue for the Coast Guard.

Industry is building a tank barge a day to meet demand – that’s up 29 percent from one year ago. The Coast Guard has the responsibility to inspect and regulate each one…from cradle to grave.

Each new barge and towing vessel adds to our responsibilities for waterways management, vessel traffic, pollution prevention and response.

My role is to make sure that the Coast Guard is positioned to meet that demand. This is a challenge at a time of shrinking budgets and reduced personnel.

The worst thing a regulatory agency can do is to become an impediment on the industry you regulate. We owe it to the public and our partners to stay ahead of the Energy Renaissance.

Coast Guard efforts in this regard are well underway.

In 2009, when we began to look at uninspected towing vessels under Subchapter “M” we recognized the need for a greater emphasis on our marine inspection program.

Since 2009 we have qualified and trained over 400 new inspectors. As we see demand increase further by burgeoning energy growth, we will seek to expand that pool.

Panama Canal expansion

Panama Canal expansion is also an area of keen interest to me in terms of potential growth – in both size and volume – of shipping to U.S. ports.

The Canal Authority – in spite of some well publicized delays – is expected to complete its major expansion in 2015.

The canal expansion will accommodate a ten foot increase in vessel draft – to 50 feet, an additional 236 foot length overall, and a 55 foot increase at the beam. The Canal Authority is predicting that they’ll be able to handle 12,000 to 14,000 TEU container ships. They’re presently only handling the much smaller 5500 TEU Panamax ships of the 1980s.

So, this obviously has potential to attract a much larger percentage of the global shipping fleet. Several ports are already capable of handling these deeper vessels, and others will likely look to expand where they’re capable of doing so.

This isn’t just a boom to the container fleet, but also to break bulk carriers and energy shipments. The natural gas and agriculture sectors are already positioning to take advantage of the new canal size.

This cuts across several Coast Guard mission sets. There is the inspection piece that I mentioned, but also a safety of navigation issue. There isn’t a lot of margin for error anywhere in our national maritime transportation system with a 50 foot draft vessel. We’ll be operating within feet, if not inches, in a lot of places.

That effects how we manage our vessel traffic services, aids to navigation and waterways management as well as preparedness, prevention and response programs.

Cyber in the maritime domain

Cyber is a unique challenge in that it pervades everything we do. The Coast Guard has two responsibilities with Cyber.

First, like all federal agencies and military services, we have the responsibility to safeguard our own network. As a user of these national systems and an owner of our own data system, we have to be secure against intrusion.

Secondly, we have a role as a maritime regulator to make sure the marine transportation system is secure and resilient. That’s a much broader task that involves our partnerships with fellow agencies and departments, and our relationships with the industry. This is particularly important as we continue to become more and more reliant on technology to manage the maritime transportation system.

To match these requirements to resources we’re developing a cyber strategy that we plan to roll out next year.


There are a lot of examples of our increased reliance on technology, but also in a very positive sense, there are a number of innovative ideas that will contribute to an increased margin of safety in our maritime transportation system.

A major initiative being worked on is “future aids to navigation.” They’re using the existing Automatic Identification System, or AIS, to create virtual, synthetic and real AIS to our existing aids to navigation system.

If it hasn’t reached your waterway yet, a virtual aid to navigation, or ATON, allows for the addition of check in points, safety zones, security zones, etc., on electronic charts. It also allows the creation of temporary electronic signals to mark missing buoys or those trapped under ice.

Synthetic ATON allows the addition of light list information, warnings, etc., to a navigational aid without physically adding equipment to the light or buoy. Essentially, you’ll be able to mouse-over a charted buoy on your electronic chart display and information system, or ECDIS, and receive real-time information that would otherwise be in a paper publication.

Finally, we’re also working to add, in some cases, AIS receivers to real aids to navigation, to make the buoy itself smarter.

Other efforts include pushing NOAA Ports Info, including tide, current and air draft information through AIS. And…we’re working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to integrate dredging information, temporary restrictions and other physical characteristics that are otherwise in multiple publications onto a single ECDIS or radar screen.

All of these measures will be introduced with the input of those who know our waterways best, our marine pilots. You are a critical part of the process as the local professional mariners and experts. These decisions will be made on a port by port basis.

For those of you who may have concerns, I want you to know that this isn’t another attempt to replace all actual buoys with electrons. Over the last few years we’ve added GPS to just about every car in the country, without chopping down the exit signs. Coast Guard efforts continue to focus on enhancing situational awareness.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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