Magazine article National Defense

Maritime Security

Magazine article National Defense

Maritime Security

Article excerpt

Coast Guard Team Protects Nation's Busiest Ports

BOSTON-THE 25-FOOT, RED-AND-GRAY U.S. Coast Guard response boat sped across busy Boston Harbor, zipping past ships of all sizes, from small sailing vessels to giant liquefied natural-gas containers.

As it approached foreign-flagged ships, the heavily armed boat slowed for a close look, with one of its crewmembers manning an M-240 7.62 mm machine gun on the foredeck.

The boat's crewmembers are part of Marine Safety and Security Team 91110, a small, specially trained unit assigned to help protect the city from terrorist attack.

The 76-person unit, known as MSST Boston, is one of 13 such organizations established at major ports along the nations coastlines since the 2001 assaults against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

MSSTs are quick-reaction forces whose mission is to provide security for their homeports and to deploy nationwide in response to emerging threats against other high-priority waterside targets.

The Boston team has helped provide waterborne security for such national events as September's United Nations World Summit in New York City; the 2005 Superbowl in Jacksonville, Fla.; the G-8 Summit in Brunswick, Ga.; the most recent Democratic Party national convention in Boston, and the Republican one in New York, said the team's planning officer, Lt. Thomas Ottenwaelder.

Other MSSTs have traveled further afield, providing port security in places such as Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Two teams-one based in New Orleans, La., and another from Galveston, Texas-participated in relief operations after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.

MSSTs are patterned after two other kinds of highly mobile Coast Guard organizations with very different missions-port-security units and law-enforcement detachments. Port-security units help protect Navy assets in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere around the world, and law-enforcement detachments carry out drug-interdiction missions from Navy vessels, primarily in the Caribbean Sea and waters along the Pacific Coast of the Americas.

The MSSTs are trained and equipped specifically to fill security gaps at strategic U.S. seaports. MSST Boston was stood up in 2003.

Boston was selected as a site, because it is the leading city in New England-hub of a metropolitan area of 5.8 million people stretching from Maine to Connecticut. Every year, the city's teeming port terminals handle more than 1.3 million tons of general cargo, 1.5 million tons of non-fuels bulk cargo and 12.8 million tons of bulk fuel cargo. In 2005, 101 passenger ships are scheduled to call.

Like all MSST personnel, the Boston team members hone their skills at the Coast Guard's Special Missions Training Center, which is located on the Marine Corps's Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They learn how to:

* Deploy rapidly to supplement U.S. military forces and homeland-security personnel anywhere around the country or the globe.

* Establish and enforce safety and security zones around ships, docks and other likely targets in order to limit the possibility of attacks.

* Respond to maritime terrorist or criminal acts in an effort to minimize resulting disruptions.

* Conduct high-speed maritime intercepts.

* Board and search any suspicious vessel and seize any potential contraband.

It's important for the public-and the rest of the Coast Guard-to realize that MSSTs are focused on maritime security, and not the service's traditional missions, such as boating safety, fisheries enforcement, and search and rescue, team members said.

In Boston, those responsibilities usually are handled by Coast Guard Station Boston, which was reestablished in 2003 after having been downsized during a 1996 realignment.

For the MSST, "search and rescue is not our primary mission," said Cooper, the executive officer. It's tertiary. …

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