The USF college of Marine science held their monthly brown bag luncheon series today, featuring 3 speakers on the topic of Port Safety, and focusing on the Gulf of Mexico. Gary Springer, the president of the Gulf of Mexico States partnership, said that because 94 percent of the trade taking place under NAFTA is overland, the importance of ports is underestimated, which was reveled after hurricane Katrina.

ACT “All you have to do is kill shipping channel off near the port of New Orleans and you’ve stopped 36 states products from being moved..ask archer Daniel midlands…and all the fixed assets sit there as well.

Springer says the Gulf of Mexico needs to be looked as a region, one that at 6 trillion dollars, would be the 6th largest economy in the world, even larger than Chinas. Springer told the audience that moving goods over water is more environmentally friendly and cheaper that doing it by truck or train. The gulf has 7 of the 12 largest US ports, and 60% of the country’s energy shipments come through the gulf. Springer also mentioned that Wal-Mart is planning on moving the delivery of their shipments from China to the port of Houston, instead of the west coast of the US. All of this, Springer says is the reason why safety and security needs to be a higher priority.

ACT-Springer “If you look at things in place, you find a mandate to do it but no funding. Florida was extremely prescient when they got a security plan, we were the only state, bad news is we didn’t get our funding..worse is that Mexican ports which are only getting bigger, they have not yet put the fences up, and gone towards minimal security..they don’t all come from Mexico…pushing the border a little bit out, we want a higher standard..

Springer said that other Latin American countries are similarly to Mexico, not giving port safety the attention it needs. And the US isn’t adequately funding port safety either. While the budget for the Port of Tampa has increased from 200 thousand to almost 5 million since 9/11, the port of Pensacola’s budget is still less than a million and has received no federal grants.

USF professor Mark Luther spoke about the collision that made the sunshine bridge fall, and how we need to learn from that event in defining what port safety means.

ACT-Luther “In 1980 an inbound freighter..hit bridge and knocked it down, killed 35..that’s more likely..we need to make investments in proportion to the risk..calamity from human and natural are a higher risk that attack..�

Tampa Bay is one of the 10 or 20 most busy ports in the U.S., and at 50 nautical miles, stretching from Egmont key to the Port in downtown Tampa the Tampa bay channel is the longest ship channel of any major port in the country in the country. Luther listed off some of the hazardous material that comes into the Tampa bay channel.

ACT “69 percent of peteroleum..they had to bring it in the keep power plants going..ammonia, phosphate, ammonia is nasty, a couple of large tankers a week come in, if there is ever a breach of the tankers would kill anyone within a couple of miles..�

To try and enhance security, the Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System, abbreviated PORTS, was created in 1992, to give lots of information to government agencies, harbor pilots and ships captains. PORTS integrates real-time currents, water levels, winds, wave height, visibility, air and water temperatures, and barometric pressure at multiple locations via phone, modem and internet. Tampa Bay had the first PORTS system in the country, and its resulted in a decrease in groundings from three per thousand transits to less than 1 per thousand. PORTS can also be used to clean up spills, predict and track storm surge and red tides, and help prevent the spread of pathogens, among other things.

John Kloske, a scientist at USFs center for ocean technology, spoke about a different new tool, which was first used at the superbowl in Jacksonville in 2005. A mobile inspection package for scanning underwater surfaces. It combines video and sonar to create a 3-d image of objects, or entire coastlines as far as 200 meters away, and is a much better alternative than putting divers underwater.

ACT-Kloske “When we first saw this object over here, it looked like an oil drum because that's what a terrorist could employ..sonar you would be tempted to close down the port..yet by having the sensors on the ROV, we can verify it’s the top of a plastic container top…one type of sensor, do that too often you don’t want that..�

But that tool is still in its experimental phases, and the consensus was that the US needs to do more to make its ports safe and efficient. Springer gave the example of the port of Rotterdam, which invested millions to bring the port up to the actual levels recommended by the government of the Netherlands. As a result, businesses from all over Europe switched to that port which they knew would be quicker, safer, and meet the standards of the US and other ports around the world. Springer said the investment must be made in the Gulf of Mexico

ACT -Springer “Eventually someone will attack a port, its just a matter of where and when, but if you look at hurricanes, black lines are CAT 5, if you look at that, for 5 months, that is our biggest vulnerability.�

The USF brown bag seminars are available to be viewed on the internet, you can do so by logging onto www.coseeflorida.org

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