Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Technology May Encourage Container Shipping on St Lawrence Seaway

Safety margins Improved by Draft Information System
Shipping News Feature

US – One of the principal barriers to opening up the St Lawrence Seaway, that complex system of canals, locks and channels which links the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, has traditionally been the uncertainty regarding the depth of water below a vessel’s keel. Traditionally used by bulk freight carriers up to Panamax depth levels the shallower sections can present problems for navigators and historically have stymied efforts to increase the amount of container cargo using the Seaway.

Now the waterway’s management, U.S. Seaway Corporation, has announced the availability of an innovative new technology that will enhance safety for vessels using the route by giving mariners real time information on current and projected distances between a vessel’s keel and river bottoms. Known as the Draft Information System (DIS), the new on-board technology will reduce the potential for groundings and allow ships to carry more cargo by better taking advantage of the available water levels.

Vessels equipped with DIS will be able to traverse the Seaway more safely with extra cargo, at a draft of up to three inches more than the published maximum. Depending on the commodity carried, an additional three inches of draft could mean transporting as much as 360 additional metric tonnes per voyage. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation Acting Administrator Craig Middlebrook, commented:

“The new system is a milestone for the Seaway and an example of how the Canadian and U.S. Seaway Corporations can innovate with stakeholders to improve the safety and efficiency of the Seaway transit experience.”

The Seaway has long required a minimum safety margin between the ship’s keel and river bottom, or ‘under-keel clearance’ that vessels must maintain while transiting the waterway. The new DIS technology provides a more precise way of measuring that clearance by giving mariners real-time operational and navigational information while the vessel is in transit. The DIS provides vessel operators with accurate data on river bottom contours and water levels along with the vessel’s speed and heading. As a result, mariners will have a greater ability to implement effective course changes or other required reactions in transit.

An economic impact study of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System released last October showed that the entire waterway supports 227,000 jobs resulting in $14.1 billion in annual personal income, and generates annual business revenue of $34 billion and $4.6 billion in federal, state and local taxes. According to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the new technology can result in a real boost to the annual statistics thanks to the extra capacity it offers.