Magazine article National Defense

Defending Harbors: Coast Guard Requiring Ports to Tighten Security

Magazine article National Defense

Defending Harbors: Coast Guard Requiring Ports to Tighten Security

Article excerpt

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. …

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