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U.S. Coast Guard ratchets up Port Security: patrols and ship boardings increase, stretching limited resources 'almost to breaking point'.

Responding to the threat of terrorism, the U.S. Coast Guard has made its largest commitment to port security since World War II, according to Rear Adm. Jeffrey J. Hathaway, the service's assistant commandant for operations policy.

"The nation has 361 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline--including the Great Lakes and inland waterways--which are vulnerable to terrorist attack," Hathaway told National Defense. Since September 2001, the Coast Guard has conducted nearly 40,000 surface and air patrols to protect those assets, he said. h has boarded more than 2,500 vessels of interest and interdicted more than 6,200 illegal immigrants.

Now, as part of Operation Liberty Shield, which was launched in March, these efforts are being increased yet again, Hathaway said. Coast Guard patrols are growing by 50 percent. The Sea Marshal program, which escorts, boards and inspects arriving and departing vessels, will expand. The number of Maritime Safety and Security Teams, the Coast Guard's highly trained anti-terrorist units, is being doubled.

These additional responsibilities come at a time when the Coast Guard's resources already are "stretched thin, nearly to the breaking point," making it "extremely difficult to continue serving other missions," Adm. Thomas Collins, the service's commandant, told a Senate hearing.

The Coast Guard, with 36,000 active-duty officers and enlisted personnel, is the smallest of the U.S. uniformed services, in March, it was transferred from the Transportation Department to the new Department of Homeland Security.

With the increased focus on homeland security, the Coast Guard is receiving additional resources. For fiscal year 2003, the Coast Guard received an extra $1 billion in funding. For 2004, it requested $6.7 billion, a $581 million increase.

Coast Guard reservists are playing a larger role, Collins said. More than 3,900 are currently on active duty. Reflecting their growing importance, the total number of reservists increased from 8,000 to 9,000 personnel in 2003, and they are slated to expand yet again to 10,000 in 2004, he said.

To conduct the additional patrols, Hathaway said, the Coast Guard is buying up to 700 Homeland Security Response Boats from Safe Boats International, of Port Orchard, Wash. The total value of the contract is $145 million, with each boat costing roughly $180,000.

The new 25-foot response boats will replace nearly 300 non-standard shore-based craft. They are more maneuverable than the older boats. Outfitted with twin engines, they are capable of speeds in excess of 40 knots.

A full cabin provides crew protection from the elements and is equipped with state-of-the art navigation and communication systems, heater and shock-mitigation seats. The response boats are designed to be transportable by road or C-130 aircraft.

The contract calls for delivery of the boats to begin in July and to continue at a minimum rate of two per week.

For 2004, the Coast Guard has requested 43 fully crewed and outfitted Port Security Response Boats and nine 87-foot Coastal Patrol Boats. The service also plans to begin acquiring medium-sized response boats to replace its aging fleet of 41-foot utility vessels.

In addition, the Coast Guard is standing up a new station in Washington, D.C. in order to beef up waterside security in the nation's capital. The Coast Guard is headquartered in Washington, but until recently, it rarely was called upon to patrol the placid Potomac River. That changed with 9/11. The new station, located at pierside on Bolling Air Force Base, will have about a dozen personnel and two patrol boats to cruise the Potomac, watching for suspicious behavior, Hathaway said.

More Anti-Terrorist Teams

At the same time, the service is adding six new Maritime Safety and Security Teams, bringing the total to 12 nationwide, Hathaway said. MSSTs are deployable units consisting of about 100 Coast Guard men and women. They include boat detachments, which patrol the waters, and land-side security teams, which keep an eye out for threats along the piers.

MSSTs are patterned after Coast Guard Port Security Units and law-enforcement detachments. The PSUs provide waterborne and limited land-based protection for U.S. shipping and critical port facilities. Made up mainly of reservists, they often are deployed in support of U.S. Navy operations in such places as the Persian Gult, the Balkans and Haiti.

LEDETs are Coast Guard personnel stationed aboard Navy ships to conduct searches, seizures and arrests primarily involving the smuggling of drugs and illegal aliens into the United States. The federal Posse Comitatus Act forbids Defense Department men and women from engaging in law enforcement activities, but Coast Guard detachments can do so.

Unlike the LEDETs and PSUs, the MSSTs were created specifically for homeland security, in direct response to 9/11. Most members are part of the active-duty Coast Guard, not reservists.

MSST members must complete an intensive four-week course at the Coast Guard's Special Missions Training Center, which is located on the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Classes include tactical boar maneuvers, personal fitness and defense, underwater diving, and handling of lethal and non-lethal weapons.

MSSTs deploy to provide waterside security at national special events, such as the Olympics, OpSail of storm recovery operations. They also protect military load-outs, enforce security zones, defend critical waterside facilities in strategic ports, interdict illegal activities and provide shore-side force protection.

Also in 2004, the Coast Guard plans to add 50 personnel to its Sea Marshal program. As part of this program, the service places armed boarding officers, known as Sea Marshals, on every high-interest vessel arriving or departing U.S. ports. Eventually, Hathaway said, Sea Marshals will be assigned even to inland waterways. "You're going to see 'river marshals' boarding and escorting the barges that ply our major waterways," he said.

The number of Sea Marshals boarding a ship varies from two to six, depending the type of vessel and other factors. Once aboard, Sea Marshals meet with the vessel's captain to explain their purpose and check cargo manifests and crew lists. They stand guard in critical areas of the ship, such as the bridge, ensuring that authorized personnel remain in control of the ship at all times.

The Coast Guard doesn't have the personnel to inspect all of the ships traversing U.S. waters, Hathaway said. It gives highest priority to those carrying hazardous materials and those hailing from countries considered unfriendly or thought to have links to terrorist organizations. Other vessels are boarded randomly, both in port and at sea.

All cargo and passenger ships entering U.S. ports are required to provide detailed information four days in advance of their arrival about their crew, their cargo and the vessel itself, Hathaway said. Ships are inspected for compliance with safety, pollution and immigration regulations. Passenger ships--cruise ships and ferries--are watched closely in order to protect U.S. citizens, visitors and maritime commerce.

With all the increased emphasis on security, boaters are being advised to expect to see a greater Coast Guard presence on the water and in the air. They should be prepared to show picture identification and may be questioned about their activity, particularly if they are in sensitive areas.

Boaters are being warned to stay at least 100 yards clear of any Navy vessel, to maintain a slow speed and comply with directions when within 500 yards of a Navy ship. They should be prepared to be stopped or questioned, particularly when boating near tunnels, bridges, port facilities or other restricted areas.

In some ways, the increasing focus on homeland security is a return to the Coast Guard's roots. The service traces its history back to 1790, when Congress approved Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton's proposal to build and deploy a small fleet of revenue cutters to be "judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports."

Operational Squeeze

The emphasis on homeland security, however, is putting the squeeze on other Coast Guard operations, Hathaway admitted. "Does that mean that the Coast Guard is turning its back on its traditional missions? The answer is a resounding 'no,"' he said. "We're not."

While the Coast Guard may not have surrendered any missions, Hathaway acknowledged that it has been necessary to cut back on some, such as drug interdiction and fisheries enforcement.

In fact, a study released in April by the General Accounting Office found that, during the final three months of 2002, the amount of time that the Coast Guard spent on drug interdiction declined 60 percent, while the time devoted to fisheries enforcement dropped 38 percent. The study's findings "raise serious concerns about the Coast Guard's ability to accomplish all of its responsibilities," GAO analyst JayEtta Z. Hecker told a congressional hearing. The service cannot continue to be "all things to all people" in a department whose primary mission is homeland security.

Even the Coast Guard's planned Integrated Deepwater System--a $17 billion project to modernize its entire fleet of cutters, patrol boats and aircraft over a 20-year period--is threatened, Hecker said. Deepwater's "success is heavily dependent on receiving full funding every year," she explained. "So far, that funding has not materialized as planned."

Plans for Deepwater are based on funding of $500 million in 1998 dollars annually for 20 years or more, Hecker noted. In 2002, however, the project received about $28 million below the planned level, and in 2003, it was $90 million below the mark, she said.

If the requested amount of $500 million for 2004 is appropriated, "it would represent another shortfall of $83 million, making the cumulative shortfall about $202 million in the project's first three years," Hecker said.

The main impact of these funding cuts, she said, is that "it would take longer and cost more in the long run to fully implement the Deepwater system."

Since September 11, the Coast Guard has been reassessing the scale and timing of the Deepwater project, Collins told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

He admitted that the service has struggled to meet the new threats to homeland security while simultaneously continuing to develop the Deepwater system. But he argued that the Deepwater plan is flexible enough to adapt to the kinds of changes the Coast Guard has experienced since the project was launched in 1998.

In any case, Collins said, the Coast Guard remains convinced that Deepwater is "essential for the safety and security of the American public."

It provides, he argued, the capability to push "America's maritime borders outward, away flora ports and waterways, so that layered, maritime security operations can be implemented."

Deepwater will provide more capable maritime sensors to collect vital intelligence, a network-centric system of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, Collins said.

"Deepwater assets will be able to counter threats throughout the maritime domain, to thwart catastrophes to vulnerable infrastructure--such as oil rigs, deepwater channels and shipping--and keep commerce, especially military load-out, sale in the near-shore zones, at harbor entrances and between ports."

RELATED ARTICLE: A personal interest in security.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey J. Hathaway, the Coast Guard's assistant commandant for operations policy, acknowledges that he has a personal interest in homeland security.

On September 11, he was temporarily assigned to the U.S. Navy, serving as director of the Navy Command Center in the Pentagon. When the hijacked airliner slammed into the building, 42 out of the 50 people working in the center were killed. Hathaway survived, because he happened to be out of the building, "caught in traffic on the 14th Street Bridge," he said.

"I can tell you that the events of September 11 refocused my life," he told National Defense. He volunteered for a job as director of the Navy's new Interagency Support and Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Division. He served in that job until February of this year, when he returned to the Coast Guard.
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Author:Kennedy, Harold
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:1953
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