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Defending harbors: Coast Guard requiring ports to tighten security.

The U.S. Coast Guard has begun aggressive enforcement of the Maritime Transportation Act in an effort to increase protection of the nation's ports and waterways from terrorist attack, according to the service's vice commandant, Vice Adm. Thomas J. Barrett.

The act, passed by Congress in 2002, requires approximately 9,000 cargo and passenger vessels plying U.S. waters, and 3,200 port facilities, off-shore oil rigs and others in the maritime industry to develop and implement security plans. Ship and facility operators were supposed to turn in their plans by December 31. By early March, 97 percent had done so, Barrett told National Defense in an interview at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Coast Guard is "aggressively pursuing those who did not, and has begun issuing notices of violation with a $10,000 penalty," Barrett said. The identities of specific vessels and facilities that have received notices have been designated "sensitive security information" and will not be released to the public, Barrett said. Operators have until July 1 to implement the plans.

All vessels--except passengers carrying fewer than 150 people, towed drilling rigs and dredges--are required to have such schemes. So are all port facilities receiving vessels certified to carry more than 150 passengers, unless they are included in the master plan of a larger area.

The documents are supposed to address security measures for cargo, passengers, baggage, ship crews and dock workers. They are to include security drills and exercises, and designation of security personnel.

Commercial vessels operating in particularly confined and busy waterways will be required to install automatic identification systems to allow monitoring by Coast Guard and other federal, state and local agencies. The Coast Guard has requested $4 million in 2005 to continue installing AIS equipment in its Vessel Traffic Centers, which monitor shipping activity and provide navigational advice. The service currently has such centers in Valdez, Alaska; Seattle, Wash.; Houston, Texas; Morgan City, La.; Louisville, Ky.; Sault Ste Marie, Mich.; New York City, N.Y., and in California, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Another is being developed in New Orleans, where an offshore supply vessel cap-sized in February after colliding with a container ship, blocking the busy Southwest Pass of the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has completed assessments of security at 11 ports and established 42 Area Maritime Security Committees to enhance local planning, communication and response. It also has met with officials from nearly 60 countries, representing the vast majority of companies that ship to the United States.

"Our message is clear," Barrett said. "By July 1, all foreign shipping coming into the United States must have improved security regimes in place."

Ships wishing to enter U.S. ports also must notify the Coast Guard at least 96 hours in advance, Barrett noted. In addition, vessels are required to provide detailed information about crews, passengers and cargoes.

"We will go on board vessels and make sure they comply with these requirements," Barrett said. The Coast Guard has been placing armed Sea Marshals on key vessels as they enter and leave ports since 9/11.

The service also has established Maritime Safety and Security Teams in eleven ports, including Seattle; Los Angeles; San Francisco; San Diego; New York; Chesapeake, Va.; Galveston, Texas; St. Mary's, Ga.; Boston, Mass.; Honolulu, Hawaii, and Anchorage, Alaska.

These teams of 100 active-duty and reserve Guardsmen are designed to deploy rapidly by air, ground or sea to counter threats anywhere in the United States. MSST personnel receive training in advanced boat tactics and antiterrorism force protection at the Special Missions Training Center at the Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The teams' mission is to protect military load-outs, enforce security zones, defend waterside facilities in strategic ports, interdict illegal activities and assist with shore-side force protection. They also deploy on board Coast Guard cutters and other naval vessels for such assignments as port safety and security, drug law enforcement and migrant interdiction.

In addition, "we use them routinely at national special security events, such as the Olympics and the Superbowl," Barrett said.

To protect the nation's capital against waterborne terrorist attack, the Coast Guard has established a new station in Washington, with 26 personnel who conduct regular patrols along the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers in heavily armed 25-fore Homeland Security Response Boats. (related story p. 43)

To further enhance maritime security, the Coast Guard is seeking funds in 2005 to:

* Build 11 new 87-foot coastal patrol boats.

* Transfer five 179-foot patrol boats from the Navy.

* Alter its existing 47-foot motor life boats to allow crews to conduct missions safely in deteriorating weather conditions.

"The 179s are enormously valuable to us," Barnett explained. "The Navy already has transferred 11 to us."

The Coast Guard is cooperating with the Navy and other nations in conducting maritime interdiction exercises in the Pacific Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, as part of the Proliferation Security Initiative, training to seize suspected shipments related to weapons of mass destruction, Barrett said.

The United States is seeking bilateral agreements with other nations, permitting then1 to board suspect vessels flying their flags. "We just signed a bilateral with Liberia," which is a popular point of registry for many freighters, Barrett said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is continuing to perform many of its traditional missions. In fiscal year 2003, the service prevented more than 136,800 pounds of cocaine, 14,000 pounds of marijuana and 800 pounds of hashish from reaching U.S. shores, the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thomas H. Collins, told a congressional hearing in March.

During that same year, he said, Coasties--as Coast Guard personnel call themselves--stopped more than 6,000 illegal immigrants from entering the country. Since then, the pace has picked up as conditions deteriorated in the Caribbean island nations of Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic. During the first two months, nearly 3,900 were stopped by the Coast Guard and other homeland security agencies. Of that number, 2,436 were Dominican, 1,189 Haitian and 235 Cuban.

Despite such successes, the Coast Guard is hard pressed to police its area of responsibility. The United Stares has jurisdiction over 3.5 million square miles of ocean and 95,000 miles of coastline, Barrett said. The Coast Guard needs to improve its maritime domain awareness, he said. "We do not have enough knowledge about the traffic moving about in that region."

Barrett said he supports the proposal by the chief of naval operations, Adm. Vern Clark, to create a maritime equivalent of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, a U.S.-Canadian partnership to protect the airspace of the two countries. This maritime NORAD would be a partnership between the U.S. Navy, Northern Command, Coast Guard and Canadian armed forces.
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:1121
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