Puerto Rico trade provides lesson

What if they don't all come at a cost? The implication in the Nov. 21 cover article - and indeed the subtitle, "Green ports: The public demands them, but they come at a cost" - was that noteworthy improvement in any environmental area in the marine business comes with is accompanied by unacceptable costs. That is no doubt the case in many areas, but leaders shouldn't let that blind them to the low-hanging fruit that exists today.

Driven by the dirty residual fuel that nearly almost all oceangoing ships burn, vessels are responsible for 16 percent of worldwide greenhouse emissions from internal combustion engines. While shoreside power will address a small single-digit percentage of a given vessel's emissions in a cost-inefficient manner, it falls apart when compared to a no-cost alternative: tug-barge combinations that already routinely use a cleaner distillate fuel.

The greatest applicability for this lies in Jones Act lanes connecting two U.S. ports where the distances are most conducive to tug-barges, and the emissions benefits would be focused on the U.S. In comparisons of the specific vessels used in the Puerto Rico lane, James Corbett at the University of Delaware, the world's ranking authority on vessel emissions, estimated that tug-barges, compared with self-propelled vessels, were up to 8.6 times cleaner in terms of particulate matter, up to 14.1 times cleaner in terms of sulfur oxide and up to 2.4 times cleaner in terms of carbon dioxide. Those reductions occur continuously in port and on the sea.

Compared to that, shoreside power is a band-aid and doesn't address the local, regional and national air-quality effects in any meaningful permanent manner. Half the freight now moving in the Puerto Rico lane moves on much cleaner tug-barge systems, and as such, as it relates to the environmental footprints of the vessels, the Puerto Rico lane is actually leading the way among all major trade lanes in the world.

Unlike the incremental additional cost of shoreside power, tug-barges burning cleaner distillate fuel already exist across Jones Act lanes. Hooking in with a tug-barge system versus a self-propelled vessel system actually reduces shippers' underlying costs. Rather than being cost-additive, it's cost-subtractive, so the significant reduction in emissions that comes with it can accurately be called a no-cost environmental benefit.

Few things offer the win-win of being significantly better environment-wise and cost-wise, but tug-barges fit squarely into that category.

John D. McCown

Chairman and chief executive

Trailer Bridge Inc.

Jacksonville, Fla.

The promise, pitfalls of C-TPAT

It is good to note that Todd Owen has made such great progress this past year. Glad to see it! ("A chat with the director of C-TPAT," Jan. 2.)

Nevertheless, I truly believe that Customs and Border Protection needs a lot more funding to support an adequate "C-TPAT force" - 88 specialists are a great improvement, but I doubt they can manage 5,000 accounts, not to mention the 10,000-plus now on the horizon.

Not only do they need to focus on initial validations, but they must go back and provide occasional revalidations and training to the C-TPAT membership, just as the Transportation Security Administration goes back to reinspect indirect air carriers with the "twist" of adding some form of mandatory training classes every so often (similar, for example, to the required recertification-training for hazardous materials shipping).

I really believe that C-TPAT can make a difference, but it needs to be a "living and evolving program," and only Customs has the authority to make it exactly that.

Albert Saphir

ABS Consulting

Marietta, Ga.