Worldwide Ocean Governance: Protecting the Most Vulnerable Assets—Ports and Harbors

By Jack Rowley

Worldwide “Ocean Governance” asks the important question: “How can navies and coast guards better coordinate with local governments and international agencies in countering violence at sea? What lessons can be learned from instances of good onshore/offshore collaboration? How are governments working together across jurisdictions and in international waters to counter this threat?”

As a former U.S. naval officer, naval architect and ocean engineer, I recognize that this is a crucial question. However, I believe that when most people think about the worldwide “ocean governance,” they think of the safety of ships on the seventy-percent of the globe covered by water. That is a normal reaction. Conversely, I think in terms of the most vulnerable part of the equation: the ports and harbors from which ships sail and that (unwittingly) often serve as the conduit for illegal activities such as trafficking in persons, drugs and many kinds of contraband.

A great deal of ink has been spilled on the term “globalization” – the international interaction of information, financial capital, commerce, technology and labor at exponentially greater speeds than previously thought possible. Globalization has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. And most would agree that trade – carried primarily by sea – has been the engine of globalization in the past and continues to be so today. While most press reports have focused on the importance of ships in carrying this vital trade, these same accounts have failed to identify the critical nodes that support this globalization and burgeoning world trade.

Those nodes are the world’s harbors. From Shanghai, to Rotterdam, to Los Angeles, to other mega-ports, as well as hundreds of other, smaller ports, these harbors are critical to world prosperity. A disaster in one of them – an oil tank explosion, a fire or other catastrophe on a large oil tanker, or any of a host of other events – could close one of these ports for an indefinite time and also spill an enormous amount of pollution into the oceans. The challenge of providing comprehensive security for an average size port, let alone some of the world’s mega-ports, can sometimes lure port authorities into wishing away the challenge.

Port authorities must ensure port security twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. This task includes continuous inspection of port assets as well as on-demand inspections after storms or other disasters, threat detection and security response, ongoing surveys to ensure navigable waterways, hull inspections, and a wide-range of other missions. Port authorities must accomplish these myriad tasks while monitoring port activities’ impacts on the environment and maintaining a positive image with the local community.

Today’s State of the Art for Port Security

Current security measures in most ports involve monitoring the video provided by cameras throughout the port, as well as patrolling the ports’ expanse of water with a fleet of manned vessels. This methodology stresses the ability of port authorities to provide comprehensive security and typically leads to serious – and potentially fatal – gaps in coverage.

Cameras offer one means of monitoring a port. That said, the human cost is often high. Someone must monitor the video for the cameras to have any purpose, let alone effectiveness. With some ports maintaining scores of cameras this entails having a command center and enough watchstanders to monitor all of the cameras in real-time, around the clock.

There are similar challenges involved in the use of manned craft to patrol a harbor of any size. Manned vessel operations are often limited by weather and water conditions. For most ports, multiple manned vessels are needed to guarantee sufficient revisit time to ensure that a threat has not slipped through the security net. Compounding the issue is the physical toll of riding a small vessel – either a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) or other craft. Unlike watchstanders on land who might be able to work shifts as long as eight or even twelve hours, pounding through often-choppy harbors in a RHIB or other small craft means that a watch rotation of somewhere between three and four hours is about all most people can endure.

All-in-all, this is an expensive undertaking. Moreover, there are many shallow areas throughout ports that are beyond the reach of any manned vessels. Even limited draft craft like RHIBs draw some water when they are loaded with people, communications equipment, weapons and the like.

Given the challenges of providing comprehensive security for ports with current state-of-the-art systems and capabilities, it is little wonder that port officials are searching for technology solutions that will enable them to provide better security, at lower costs, and without putting people at risk. Some have begun to turn to new technology like unmanned surface vehicles to complement current capabilities.

A Mega-Port with a Challenge

The Port of Los Angeles is the busiest port in the United States. This mega-port comprises forty-three miles of waterfront, forty-two square miles of water and eighty-six ship-to-shore container cranes. Last year, the Port of Los Angeles handled almost ten million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo. This volume is predicted to increase year-over-year. Additionally, POLA is scheduled to soon bring on a substantial liquid natural gas (LNG) handling capability.

Today, Port of Los Angeles (POLA) officials monitor the video provided by 500 cameras, and patrol the port with a fleet of manned vessels. This methodology stresses the ability of POLA authorities to provide 24/7/365 security. Additionally, POLA has a large number of shallow areas throughout its forty-three miles of waterfront that are beyond the reach of any of the manned vessels.

Current capabilities to secure the Port of Los Angeles involve monitoring the video provided by hundreds of cameras throughout the port, as well as patrolling the port’s expanse of water with a fleet of manned vessels. This methodology stresses the ability of POLA authorities to provide around the clock security.

Port of Los Angeles officials must ensure security against a wide range of human attacks as well as natural disasters. One need only spend a short time on the ground and on the water of this port to understand the magnitude of the challenge. And what is crucially important is that the Port of Los Angeles challenge is not a unique one. It exists in ports from Singapore, to Antwerp, to Shanghai, to Rotterdam to many, many others.

Results of the Port of Los Angeles Demonstration

Port of Los Angeles officials had a mandate from a number of stakeholders to determine if using unmanned surface vehicles could help secure the port. The port invited Maritime Tactical Systems Inc. (MARTAC) to visit and demonstrate the capabilities of their MANTAS unmanned surface vehicle (USV). MANTAS is a high-performance USV built on a catamaran-style hull and comes in a number of variants ranging in size from 6-foot to 50-foot. A demonstration was conducted with a 12-foot MANTAS as it was currently available, and the 12-foot size would be the minimum size viable for conduct of any of the wide-variety of POLA missions described above.

The 12-foot MANTAS (T12) has a length of twelve feet and a width of three feet. It draws only seven inches of water. The vessel weighs 260 pounds and has a carrying capacity of 140 pounds. Its twin-screw electric propulsion prime mover enables the T12 to cruise at a comfortable 20 knots in sea state three.

The modularity of the MANTAS allows it to be equipped with a wide variety of above-surface sensors (EO/IR/thermal video) and below-surface sensors (sonars and echo-sounders), as well as other devices such as chem/bio/nuclear sensors, water quality monitors, and above/below surface environmental sensors. Real-time monitoring is provided by a MANTAS communications package that can support marine VHF, networked RF, 4GLTE, or satellite communications.

In their efforts to find an unmanned surface vehicle manufacturer to provide a port and harbor security demonstration POLA authorities did their due diligence that led them to MARTAC Inc. MANTAS had performed well in a port security demonstration conducted by the U.S. Army. Three MANTAS T-series vessels were part of the Mobile Ocean Terminal Concept Demonstration in Concord, CA. The objective of this demonstration was to assess MANTAS’ ability to patrol and protect the harbor, and especially the loading of ammunition ships. For these missions, three MANTAS vessels, T6, T8 and T12, were used to perform different operations.

The MANTAS T6 was utilized as an intercept vessel to quickly address potential threats at high-speeds – up to 55 knots. It was equipped with a standard electro/optical camera focused on rapid interdiction and base threat identification. The second vessel was a MANTAS T8, with a medium performance envelope of 25 knots. Its role was as a forward-looking harbor vessel situational awareness asset. The T8 operated forward of a harbor patrol vessel working in areas that were not accessible with manned vessels.

The final vessel was a MANTAS T12 tasked with prosecuting above and below surveillance operations to detect and identify intruder vessels, divers, kayaks or other threats to harbor assets. The MANTAS T12 was tasked to detect and provide the precise images for operator threat identification to determine appropriate response level. The MANTAS boats, and specifically the T12, have an open architecture and modular design, which facilitates the rapid changing of payload and sensor components to provide day-to-day port security as well as on-demand inspections.

Port of Los Angeles organized their MANTAS evaluation into three segments:

  • An extended boat tour of the harbor so that MARTAC representatives could understand the entirety of POLA authorities’ span of operations.
  • A comprehensive briefing on MANTAS capabilities where MARTAC officials explained the capabilities of the various size MANTAS USVS.
  • A remote demonstration where port officials controlled and observed MANTAS operating remotely off the eastern coast of Florida.

Based on the results of this event, it was determined that the capabilities of this USV met the requirements for the Port of Los Angeles to use a USV to complement its extant monitoring capabilities. However, the Port further determined that a T12 was too small to accomplish the mission effectively. This determination, coupled with the suggestions of other port officials and U.S. Coast Guard representatives, resulted in MARTAC undertaking a process of “scaling-up” the MANTAS to larger 24-foot (T24), 38-foot (T38) and 50-foot (T50) vessels for conduct of the port and harbor security mission.

These larger size craft will provide better solutions for ports and harbors as they are more visible to ships entering and leaving the harbor, they can carry additional sensors and, most significantly, the larger craft provide for increased speed up to 80kts burst which would be used for unknown vessel intercept and identification. The larger MANTAS T24, T38 and T50 additionally provide for extended patrol distances and longer patrol endurance. A follow-up port and harbor security demonstration using both the T12s and a new prototype T38E was conducted in the Port of Tampa in October 2020. This demonstration, on site within the port, clearly illustrated the improvements that the larger craft brings to the mission success in the significant challenges presented within the realm of port and harbor security.

The Future of Port and Harbor Protection

The Port of Los Angeles event, coupled with the later Port of Tampa demonstrations, showed that commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) unmanned surface vehicles can conduct a comprehensive harbor security inspection of a mega-port through effective onshore/offshore collaboration. As facilities with longstanding needs to augment manned vessel patrol activities with emergent technology in the form of unmanned surface vehicles, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Tampa demonstrations provided best-practice examples of the art-of-the-possible for enhancing port security.

Until recently, the technology to provide reliable, comprehensive and affordable USV support to augment manned capabilities and expand the reach of port police at facilities such as the Ports of Los Angeles and Tampa did not exist. Today it is readily available in the form of commercial off-the-shelf unmanned surface vessels, and these can be harnessed to increase the effectiveness of port protection while driving down costs. The end result will be an enhanced comprehensive port security, not merely wishful thinking.

In an article in the January 2020 issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Commander Rob Brodie noted: “When the Navy and Marine Corps consider innovation, they usually focus on technology they do not possess and not on how to make better use of the technology they already have.” Extrapolating his assertion to the multiple entities responsible for port and harbor security at mega-ports such as the Ports of Los Angeles and Tampa, one must ask if we are too slow to leverage an innovative solution that can be grasped immediately.

There is a distinct danger in waiting too long to put innovative COTS solutions to use. Mega-ports support globalization and the worldwide security and prosperity it delivers. Leaders should remain cognizant of the obligation and the challenge of protecting these vital nodes. Securing these ports must be a first-order priority for all nations. If successful, this will ensure that the most vulnerable assets in a quest for Worldwide Ocean Governance are protected.

LCDR U.H. (Jack) Rowley (USN-Ret) is a career Surface Warfare and Engineering Duty Officer whose 22 years of active duty included nine years of enlisted service before commissioning. Since his retirement he has continued to work, as a Naval Architect and Ocean Engineer, with the marine ship design and construction areas in both government and commercial sectors. He has had extensive experience with unmanned surface vehicles including serving as the SAIC Lead Engineer in the early stages of the development of the DARPA/ONR Sea Hunter USV Trimaran now operating with the Navy in the Port of San Diego. He currently serves as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Maritime Tactical Systems, Inc. (MARTAC).

Featured Image: Aerial view from the overhead the Port of Los Angeles, facing South, with Santa Catalina Island on the horizon. Photo credit: Port of Los Angeles.

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