SLUG: 7-37825 Dateline-Maritime Security, Pt.2
TITLE=Maritime Security, Pt. 2
Intro Now that security has been ratcheted up on U-S airplanes and at airports in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks of September eleventh, 2001, attention has shifted to the nation's ports and 150-thousand-kilometer, largely unguarded coastline. That's where the United States Coast Guard plies its trade. Before nine-eleven-2001, the Coast Guard's activities consisted mostly of teaching maritime safety, rescuing stranded boaters, and catching smugglers, drug-runners, and illegal immigrants. But these days, the Coast Guard is in the counterterrorism spotlight. For today's Dateline report, VOA's Ted Landphair spoke with the service's commandant about the Coast Guard's new, high-profile mission and state of readiness.
ANCR Along with the U-S Customs Service and twenty other agencies, forty-one thousand Coast Guardsmen and women were moved into the new Department of Homeland Security last year. The Coast Guard's twenty-year modernization program -- called "Operation Deepwater" -- has been sweetened with (b)billions more dollars in federal funds next year. The service seeks what Commandant Thomas Collins calls "transparency" quick, easy recognition of the origin, contents, and crew of every vessel approaching U-S waters.
Admiral Collins, a Massachusetts native who created the Coast Guard's "Innovation Council" before becoming commandant last year, told me his forces now have a much better idea of, as he puts it, "what's coming at us" by sea. Four full days before arrival, the captain of any international vessel approaching American waters must send ahead a detailed report.
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"And that information is vetted through national data bases to scrutinize people, cargo, and the history of the vessel. And if there's anything that develops a sense of risk in our mind, we designate that vessel a "high-interest vessel" and do offshore boardings to make sure everything is what it's supposed to be -- go through the crews, ask questions, nose around. And if it's a volatile cargo, we'll put Coast Guard law-enforcement officers right on the bridge to maintain positive control of that vessel all the way through its transit. So, escorts, inspections, physical presence, screening all inbounds. The idea here is to push borders out. You want to scrutinize as far away from the United States as possible."
ANCR Admiral Collins asserts that "All hands are on board," so to speak, on the Coast Guard's anti-terrorism watch -- while drug runners, smugglers, stowaways, and leisure boaters needing rescue or safety instruction are not taking a holiday. He says he expects that the Coast Guard will stage fifty-thousand "ship visits" -- as boardings and inspections are called -- this year alone.
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"Those vessels that may have a bad performance history in terms of safety and security get a lot of attention from us. Say a particular owner has a history of stowaways and ship-jumpers -- he gets a lot of attention. So it's a risk-based approach, so we can allocate our relatively scarce resources to the highest-impact items."
ANCR The Coast Guard joins the customs service and Transportation Security Administration in paying especially close attention to containers -- the trailer-sized metal boxes loaded by the thousands onto many large ships. He admits that right now, the search for potentially deadly cargo in these containers has a "needle-in-a-haystack" feel to it.
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"Some of these containers get loaded in Slovakia and work their way overland through Europe, get out of Rotterdam, go to Halifax, get trucked down through our northern border into the United States. There's a long supply chain. How do you gain visibility of that entire supply chain using information technology, using tracking technology, the proper sealing of containers and setting international standards for that? And the good news is that all those things are in motion. So I think there's a recognition that is a risk area."
ANCR As for securing America's coastline . . .
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"Some people have the image that we have this perfectly sealed, or positively sealed, maritime border around the United States. We clearly don't. We don't have a sealed border. But we try to focus, again, on where we think the high-risk vectors are. And we try to ensure that we have systems in place and a presence for critical asset areas -- critical infrastructure areas.
"Clearly, for example, a place like Houston-Galveston [in Texas, loaded with oil refineries] -- that maritime corridor -- is an extremely valuable, critical corridor. So we're going to have a pretty recurring presence in that particular area. Or Port of Valdez [pron: "val-DEEZ"], which is a terminus for the [Alaska] oil pipeline.
"On the other areas, we will respond to specific intelligence and threats where they come up. But we don't have bow-to-stern picket boats around the country. So you try to use surveillance technology, good intelligence, good information."
ANCR Enter "Operation Deepwater," which was already underway before nine-eleven, 2001. That retrofitting of the Coast Guard has been accelerated as a result of the threat to the nation's shores.
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"It's a multi-year, multi-billions-of-dollars contract to replace all our helicopters, all our fixed-wing [aircraft], all our ships -- from patrol boat up -- including all the sensor systems, the communication systems that network all those things together. It really will multiply our surveillance capability by at least -- I'm going say conservatively -- like three hundred percent.
"It even includes unmanned airborne vehicles that you control from the ship. They're launched from the ship. They're vertical, tilt-rotor take-off, going 220 knots. They carry a sensor package -- infrared cameras and so forth -- that can be your eyes and ears and give you greater impact -- knowing what's out there, knowing what's threatening your borders.
"The ship, and the helicopter, and the aircraft and the shore facility are all tied in, real time, seeing the same picture through very advanced systems. That gives us that transparency of our area of responsibility, to understand what's happening and what's out there, and so that we can take the right action to ensure both safety and security. So that's really a breakthrough -- those modernization programs are really breakthrough things for us, and they'll change the way we do business, all to the good. We're very, very excited about it, and that's why my major pitch in any hearing or within the Administration is trying to articulate what value we add to the nation by these modernization projects. I think they're terribly important."
ANCR There's even a new class of ship called the "national security cutter" in the works. It's second in size only to the Coast Guard's icebreakers -- and it's loaded with super-secret technology and weapons compatible with the newest ships of the U-S Navy -- with which the Coast Guard has formed battle groups several times in the Guard's 213-year history.
And there's a technology breakthrough in search-and-rescue operations as well. In fact, the Coast Guard's Internet website says the so-called "Rescue Twenty-One" takes the "search" OUT of search and rescue.
The book and movie "A Perfect Storm" highlighted the bravery of Coast Guardsmen in plucking stranded mariners from a roiling sea, even in the teeth of a hurricane. But until "Rescue Twenty-One" is in place, finding the victims of seagoing disasters is the hard part.
"It's basically a series of towers around our coasts, able to receive distress communications from boaters, shippers, and so forth. In the current system there are geographic gaps. It's an analog system, not a digital [system]. The new system will close the gaps. It's a digitized system. It will have recording capability. And the most important thing -- and hence the 'taking the search out of search and rescue' phrase -- it has direction-finding information. So when we get an emergency broadcast from a boater, the series of towers has direction-finding capability. It can not only receive the distress call but also position the caller. Therefore, we know exactly where to go to provide assistance. So instead of spending a good deal of the time searching for that boater or person in distress, we'll have a position to go to and concentrate on the real important part -- which is the rescue."
ANCR Shipping has been a global venture for centuries, but Admiral Thomas Collins says it has never been more so.
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"Very few ships are U-S-flag ships. They've moved to foreign registries. So worrying about the things that come at us and regulating them is important -- but also insuring that the rest of the nations of the world are just as aggressive. What we did, right after nine-eleven  was approach the International Maritime Organization, headquartered in London -- it's a United Nations body -- to put security on the agenda.
"And we aggressively pushed a new international security protocol for shipping AND ports. In less than a year, we have a brand new, international protocol convention, approved by 108 nations. It goes into effect One-July, 2004, with fairly significant requirements, both for vessels AND for ports that they come from or call on. It calls for enhanced security at all the ports.
"Our full intention, as directed by Congress in a companion piece of legislation called the 'Maritime Transportation Security Act' is that we will do FOREIGN port assessments. We'll go around the world and say, 'O-K, here's the international standard. Are you adhering to it?' And if they're not adhering to it, we have the ability to deny entry to the United States of any ship that departs from that port."
ANCR But that's a year away. And as yet the U-S Coast Guard has none of its sophisticated new cutters, all-weather surveillance aircraft, unmanned spy drones, super-snooping towers, and coordinated communications that it hopes will greatly tighten coastal security. As one U-S port manager told me, "Right now, it's hope for the best, as we prepare for the worst, as fast as we can." For Dateline, I'm Ted Landphair.
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