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. It 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
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,
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 Gulf, 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 boat 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 or 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.”
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
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
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 from 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, safe in the near-shore zones, at harbor entrances and between ports.”