Understanding The Portunus Project

The Portunus Project is an offshore port concept where future U.S. ports could be located in the ocean some twenty to forty miles from shore. This concept would allow cargo to be inspected at a distance from cities and is intended to improve homeland security. However, this concept is also unique because it would allow the United States to be a world leader in the efficient goods movement.

GraphicsforPortunusConceptArticle1WEB-34132Source: MarineLink.com

Current Strategies for Freight and Vessel Inspection

Our current defense strategy utilizes programs such as the Container Security Initiative, Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) and electronic manifest submittals to screen vessels prior to their arrival into the United States. However, there are weaknesses in these programs and in years to come they may become ineffective altogether. Many resources are consumed in trying to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States. The resources utilized focus mainly overseas and on alliances with foreign governments to keep us safe. However, if this dynamic can be flipped so that our defense works to improve our economy then the expensive battle of prevention may be won.

The goal of maintaining inspection of freight offshore, yet under U.S. control will be a tough challenge to implement. Initially, the perception may be that this is technically unfeasible to achieve or that it does not look to be particularly economically friendly.

What is the Portunus Project?

According to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the Portunus concept will inspect 100 percent of transoceanic vessels, containerized, bulk freight and private craft prior to their arrival to U.S. ports by developing a series of offshore security ports. These ports will provide protection and decrease freight offload times by thirty percent or more. Additionally, the implementation of these ports will improve intermodal connectivity and make the movement of goods to U.S. consumers more efficient and effective.

Portunus ModelSource: LLNL

In forecasted results, the offshore ports may provide an array of benefits including environmental benefits, domestic employment, infrastructure protection and government finances. The structure of these ports are modular in design and will start out small so that they can be utilized for other purposes while still being developed. The Portunus trans-shipment will intend to have a few distinct sections:

  • International Shipping: Freight will be offloaded and exports loaded onto large ocean-going carriers. Containerized freight is moved to the next section. Bunkering, power, maintenance and repair support will also be provided.
  • Security and Inspections: Security screening includes screening for human trafficking, radiological/nuclear material, chemical-biological weapons and contraband such as explosives or drugs.

During the process of offloading and examination, each container will be assigned to a location on the domestic section of the port. These will be transported via smaller ships that are designed to optimize transit to a domestic port making delivery incredibly efficient.

Advantages of the Portunus Project

These trans-shipment ports will have a variety of advantages. Not only will it provide more secure borders from human trafficking and smuggling but it has the potential to provide us with some economic benefits as well. The economic benefits would stem from a more efficient shipping process domestically and internationally as well as investments in the technological growth of these ports. The new offshore ports mean faster turnaround time for large ships traveling internationally which allows for more trips and more time at sea which increases overall profits. Ultimately if the process is able to run smoothly, freight will be safely and reliably delivered faster than it is today. Technological development of offshore platforms will provide economic growth and new insights into industries such as shipbuilding, alternative energy, desalinization, aquaculture and LNG exports. Adding to the economic benefit would be the creation of new domestic jobs which would strengthen the marine and shipbuilding industries.

Another crucial factor to consider is the environmental benefit that the Portunus Project can achieve. By keeping international ships offshore, the United States would be able to minimize environmental impacts such as invasive species. The need for deep harbors through increased dredging would be minimized because larger ships would be kept out at sea. Additionally, the shipping process is much more efficient which minimizes air pollution and fossil fuels.

Of course the skepticism surrounding this new technology is prevalent. The LLNL has worked with various ports, economists, universities, marine merchants, shipping companies, engineering firms, terminal operators and technology companies in an effort to provide a concept that makes the most sense. Of course the creation of this will take time and patience, but ultimately these offshore ports could become critically important in the U.S. economy.



Glauser, Hank “The Portunus Concept” Maritime Reporter. September 2014: 52-55. Print.

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