12. The Marine Exchange of Southern California> USC Sea Grant> USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Posted on April 30, 2021
Dr. James A. Fawcett, USC Sea Grant Marine Policy Specialist / Director of Extension and Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at USC
Media contact: Léa Shore / [email protected] / (213) -740-1960

The Marine Exchange of Southern California, located in San Pedro, California near twin ports. Source: CAPT J. Kipling Louttit

Just as an airport needs air traffic controllers to weave arrivals and departures, so does a large seaport. In small seaports, the port itself is often able to coordinate the traffic entering and leaving its waters. However, in large seaports, it is important to provide an order of information to port operations. Since 1923, the Marine Exchange of Southern California (MXSOCAL) has been the manager of our twin ports, first to the Port of Los Angeles, then later extending to the Port of Long Beach. It is little known outside ports and its purpose may seem mysterious or obscure at first until we realize why it is such a critical port function.

Port coordinator

At the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach (POLA / POLB), the busiest of US seaports, more than 4,500 ships arrive each year, with crew drawn from various countries. Some ships make repeated visits to our ports, others come infrequently, but each requires the assistance of a trusted agent who is familiar with port operations and can assist the ship while in port. The shipping agent or freight agent is engaged by the carrier (vessel operator) prior to arrival. This arrangement is usually made by the carrier’s office, and not by the ship’s captain, whose responsibility at sea is to ensure safe navigation.

The officer should know when the vessel will arrive to ensure mooring arrangements are made, tugs are engaged, stevedores are on the docks to secure the vessel, and port pilotage services are ready to go. take responsibility for safe entry and exit. , and the mooring of the ship. The challenge is that officers only know the arrival, departure and offset information for their own vessels; they program blindly from other agents and companies. This is where MXSOCAL is invaluable. Every day of the year, MXSOCAL’s Maritime Information Specialists (MIS) contact all agents for all ships arriving, departing and moving around ports, and pull together individual schedules into one consolidated schedule. The primary and most essential role of the Marine Exchange is to be the coordinator and a single point of contact for information for all vessels.

A busy seaport will experience many concurrent activities — adjacent vessels seeking to depart, scheduling tug and port pilotage services for arriving and departing vessels, planning the loading of dangerous goods and bunkering activities — each increasing the risk of confusion or conflict in the port. For this reason, the Marine Exchange makes coordination possible by serving as a central clearinghouse for information on all of these activities. Without it, confusion would be inevitable and, indeed, the overall management of the port and its many moving and constituent parts would be very difficult. Its day-to-day operation may seem ordinary and routine, but given the wide variety of activities that take place in a busy seaport, without it chaos would be an everyday experience.

Maritime information specialists supervising the ports of LA / LB in December 2020. Source: CAPT J. Kipling Louttit

Marine traffic service

The second critical function of MXSOCAL is to operate the Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While MXSOCAL is the administrative coordinator of planning and reporting for maritime movements, its partner, VTS, is most equivalent to the responsibilities of an air traffic control system. Each major seaport has a VTS to coordinate the actual movement of ships approaching, departing, moving or anchoring near the port. The VTS at the Los Angeles and Long Beach Ports is unique in the United States as it is a not-for-profit public / private partnership between the United States Coast Guard and MXSOCAL. The VTS is made up of a mix of 11 MXSOCAL employees (many of whom have significant experience at sea in the Coast Guard, US Navy, or as civilian sailors) and six active-duty Coast Guard operations specialists. Using sophisticated digital radar, computer and radio equipment, they track all vessels[1] between Morro Bay and the Mexican border. MXSOCAL and its VTS are led by CAPT J. Kipling Louttit, US Coast Guard (ret.) Whose predecessors were also experienced sailors, CAPT Richard McKenna, US Navy (ret.), And Civilian Master Mariner CAPT Manny Aschemeyer.

Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) controllers, observing the ports of LA / LB in December 2020. Source: CAPT J. Kipling Louttit


MXSOCAL is a stand-alone 501c (6) company funded primarily from two sources. The Marine Information Service is funded by the paying customers who purchase Consolidated Vessel Schedules and other reports. Vessel traffic service is funded by each arriving vessel by paying a rate based on the length and weight of the vessel.

Vessel tracking using an automated identification system

In 2002, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations (UN) agency regulating international maritime transport, instituted a regulation that all ships over 300 gross tons[2] must have on board and operate a Class A Automatic Identification System (AIS) transceiver.This piece of equipment is capable of transmitting a vessel’s unique IMO identification number, position, course, its speed and other information to other vessels, which is received by their AIS equipment, electronic charting and data information systems (ECDIS) and at VTS facilities around the world.[3]

Armed with this information, ships in the vicinity of the two ports, as well as maritime operations along the ~ 200 mile coast of Southern California and MXSOCAL, communicate with a wide swath of ships in southern waters of the California on a 24/365 basis. Their maritime information specialists schedule four days before a ship arrives in ports to notify all interested parties of the ships’ expected arrivals. About a day before a ship arrives, the VTS begins to track it. 25 miles from the ports, approximately two hours before arrival, ships check in with VTS and validate arrival information. They also validate that the ship is authorized to enter the port by the coast guard, that the ship goes directly to seek a pilot from the port and goes to a berth inside the port, or if it is heads to an anchorage outside the breakwater to wait in the queue for a spot. The VTS can also provide a host of other functions and information such as warning of a potential collision, warning a vessel that its anchor may not be secure to the bottom (which can cause the vessel to drift out of its way. assigned anchor), or the approach of severe weather.

A snapshot of what a VTS controller is watching. Source: Captain Patrick Baranic, Managing Director of MX

Voluntary Ship Speed ​​Reduction Program

The Marine Exchange performs several other unique functions for ports that benefit the local community. The first is to track the speed of ships as they approach ports as part of the voluntary ship speed reduction program. As discussed in Blog # 7, the two seaports have agreed on an air quality action plan as the Los Angeles airshed is often unable to meet standards. federal authorities on air quality. As part of this plan, ships are asked and encouraged to slow down to 12 knots when they are 40 nautical miles from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, thereby reducing their engine emissions and contributing to smoother air. pure. Slowing down, the two ports agreed to reduce their wharf charges from 15 to 25%. Using the information from the VTS, each of the ports is able to assess which vessels are eligible for the fee reduction.

Ensuring port security

Another important facet of MXSOCAL is its role as watchdog of maritime operations in both ports as the secretariat of the Harbor Safety Committee (HSC), established and supported by the California Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). Its 24-member board of directors was originally tasked with ensuring that port activities are safe from oil spills, however, the HSC also documents hazardous activities such as collisions, alliances[4], navigation aids, moorings, “near misses”, depth and construction of canals, bridges, small craft, piloting, escort tug / tanker assistance, keel clearance, environmental impacts and inclement weather, and standards of care for vessel movements. The HSC is responsible for a port security plan and holds regular meetings with representatives from the shipping industries, ports, the United States Coast Guard, the United States Navy, government agencies, and interested members of the public.

MXSOCAL is located on the San Pedro Peninsula, offering an excellent vantage point of the bay and ships. Source: CAPT J. Kipling Louttit

A public record of data collection

MXSOCAL may be reminiscent of an old sailor sitting by the bay, smoking a pipe and perhaps mending a fishing net while watching ships go by – they both have long, vivid memories of the history of port operations. However, unlike the former sailor, the MXSOCAL and its VTS are very busy on a daily basis, accompanying ships, documenting port operations and making a saved memory in charts and reports of ship arrivals and departures. What’s even better is that this “memory” is accessible to public agencies, academic researchers, lawyers, historians and the public who are looking for reliable and contemporary records of port operations. It contains data which may be useful in settling disputes between the parties, information on the evolution of the physical character of the two ports, the types of cargo handled and the duration of ships in port. It also holds records for port disasters such as the SS Sansinena, a Liberian tanker that exploded in the port of Los Angeles on December 17, 1976. Obviously, its historical information repository is another valuable asset backed by a century. observation, listening and coordination on this lively coastline.

Note: Many thanks to CAPT Louttit for his contributions and the accuracy of the description of these critical port functions.

[1] All 300 gross tonnage ships and as such transmit their identity through the Automatic Identification System (AIS).

[2] The ton is a metric ton or 2204.6 lbs. A 300 ton ship would weigh 330.7 short tons (imperial).

[3] US Coast Guard. (Nd). Current and Proposed US Coast Guard AIS Regulations.

[4] A alliance is defined as: “The passage of a vessel over another stationary vessel”.