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Panama Canal to Launch Digital System

THE Panama Canal Authority will soon begin using a new system to share crucial data with vessels planning to transit the 51-mile waterway.

The Automated Data Collection System (ADCS) is to be launched April 1, with full implementation scheduled by July 1. The idea is to eliminate the current process of data collection via paper, substituting it with an electronic exchange of information between canal authorities and their customers.

José Carrasco, project manager of the authority’s ADCS division, said the new system will save time, lessen human error and reduce costly delays.

“The objective behind the development of ADCS is to improve the way we collect data from our clients in order to perform risk assessments,” Carrasco said in a phone interview from Panama City. “Before, the information was collected on paper, it took a long time to key it in, and sometimes mistakes were made.”

THE impetus for the new system is the threat of international terrorism, Carrasco said.

“Security regulations are being set up all over the world by the IMO (International Maritime Organization),” he explained. “You need to have a general idea what kind of risk a vessel might pose to your facility. We’ll be requiring the use of harmonized codes so we can have an exact idea what you’re carrying, where in your vessel the cargo is located, where it’s coming from, where it’s going and who your passengers are.”

Vessels transiting the canal will be required to report all necessary data at least 96 hours before arrival. ADCS is designed to comply with the new security requirements included in the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS).

A fact sheet on ADCS says it offers convenient access via the Panama Canal Authority’s Web-based interface.

THE ADCS is divided into two main components. The first is an electronic data collection system, which receives all preliminary information required for security and operational purposes. The second is a mobile data collection system, which allows wireless communication between the Enhanced Vessel Traffic Management System database and handheld computers carried by Panama Canal Authority boarding officers and inspectors.

“Our boarding officers will be able to access this information via a wireless link using a Pilot PC,” Carrasco said. “They’ll be able to look at your information while you’re out there, doing spot checks. In case of errors or discrepancies, they’ll be able to provide an immediate response.”

Carrasco said implementation of ADCS implementation will be done gradually over the next three months.

“WE need to let the users get acquainted with it before it becomes compulsory,” he said.

In the 2003 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, 2003, the Panama Canal Authority reported 12 maritime accidents from a total of 13,154 transits. It also posted revenues of $921 million, an average transit time of just under 23 hours and volume of 242.5 million tons.

Last year also brought a substantial increase in the number of Panamax ships – vessels that utilize the maximum width of the canal to carry the most possible cargo.

The tonnage increase can be attributed to a growth in transits of ships measuring 900 feet or more in overall length.

According to the Panama Canal Authority, 980 of these vessels transited the canal in fiscal year 2003, compared with 715 vessels in fiscal 2002.

“THIS trend toward Panamax ships as the preferred mode of transport is likely the result of a dramatic rise in the container segment of the shipping industry,” said a Panama Canal Authority press release.

“Other goods that registered an increase in 2003 were grains, automobiles and auto parts, chemicals and petrochemicals, refrigerated products and coke carbon.”

Significant capital improvement efforts last year have also contributed to the Panama Canal’s ability to handle increased traffic.

According to authorities, these include the deepening of the Gatun Lake channel; the acquisition of new locomotives and rehabilitation of the locomotive tracks; the addition of new tugboats; improved aids to navigation; a training and research maritime simulator center; and the implementation of the Automatic Identification System, a sophisticated vessel tracking system.


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