Case Study: PortVision Puts Coast Guard Oil Spill Investigation in Focus

• Background

Several beach goers found their favorite shorelines along the North County of San Diego closed in early June as a result of a several-hundred-gallon oil spill that washed onto dry land. The four-mile-long by one-mile-wide slick also cancelled a weekend surfing competition and had U.S. Coast Guard officials setting up a safety zone for three days.

The cost of the cleanup alone was estimated at $60,000, according to local news reports, and this figure did not include loss of money to area businesses dependant on seasonal beach traffic or by the cancellation of the surfing event. And while the Coast Guard began searching for the offending party, it was akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

“It's incredibly difficult to track down those responsible for such a spill offshore,” said Coast Guard Lt. Jereme Altendorf. “Other than the oil itself, there were no witnesses or other evidence of blameworthiness.”

• Solution

“We read the news articles about the difficulty the Coast Guard was having with the investigation, and knew we could be of service,” said Jim Drewett, co-founder and CTO of PortVision. “I called the area command center and invited investigators to our offices so we could provide pinpoint historical data of commercial vessels in the area at the time of the incident.”

PortVision is a Web-based tool that converts existing, federally-mandated, collision avoidance signals into usable information for mapping, alerting and reporting purposes while increasing its subscribers’ maritime domain awareness. Users log onto PortVision and conduct easy, “Google-like” searches by vessel name, terminal name, call sign or International Maritime Organization (IMO) number to show the current status of any ship or terminal operation. Moreover, PortVision can also serve as a tool to view past events in real time by simply going back to a time period and location to see the situation as it occurred. The system’s associated reporting tools allow users to analyze port and U.S. waterway activity to identify the true root cause behind specific situations.

• Results

Soon after the initial outreach by Drewett, PortVision staff members and U.S. Coast Guard investigators began calling up information of all vessels in the vicinity of the area in question from late May until early June. Graphical analysis showed a specific number of vessels in the region as well as their recent history in an easy-to-use format. A concrete list of likely suspects was soon created, and the investigation began to take on a greater focus.

“In these types of situations, creating such a list can be daunting, because we’d have to pour over radio communication logs and port arrival/departure records and assume they are accurate and up to date,” said Altendorf. “The data provided by PortVision made our investigation that much easier, because we were able to extract accurate, undisputed information about what specific vessels were near the incident at the time in question. We now had ships of interest that we could call upon and question.”

PortVision can provide clear cut evidence to resolve many maritime issues -- including law enforcement and compliance-related activities -- at the click of a mouse through its combination of interactive maps, dashboards and data analytics. This information gives users unprecedented transparency to key events that occur in ports and inland waterways, and results in increased efficiencies, reduce costs and enhanced safety and security for all maritime stakeholders.

“The availability of perfect information means all waterway stakeholders -- vessel operators, pilots, agents and law enforcement officials -- can do their jobs better,” said Drewett. “Our tool empowers them to increase their ability to operate efficiently from virtually anywhere at anytime.”

More information on PortVision and its benefits to the maritime industry is available at