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US Homeland Security Chief outlines marine protection strategy

Posted by on May 2, 2008

More security news pertaining to recreational boating

US Homeland Security Chief outlines marine protection strategy

By IBI Magazine

Speaking to members of the American Boating Congress (ABC) this week, Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, outlined a general plan of action to combat potential terrorists threats in US waters. Chertoff also used the occasion to introduce the department’s latest report, the DHS Small Vessel Security Strategy, which will be a blueprint for moving forward.

“You all know that there is of course a real connection between the security issues we confront at the department, and boating,” said Chertoff. “Even though 9/11 involved aircraft, before 9/11 there was in fact the Cole bombing, and before the Cole bombing there was the attempted bombing of the U.S.S. Sullivan. We have to, therefore, accept the reality that there is a risk to our security that comes from someone misusing a boat for terrorist purposes.”

Chertoff said that the US has “literally thousands of miles of coastline” as well as 361 ports, including eight of the world’s 50 highest volume ports, and 10,000 miles of navigable waterways. “According to a 2007 U.S. Coast Guard study of 9 U.S. ports, there were approximately 3,000 small commercial vessels, 3,000 fishing vessels, and 400,000 recreational vessels in the vicinity of important maritime infrastructure in this country,” he said.

The Homeland Security Chief said that small boats could be used to smuggle in terrorists or weapons of mass destruction or even be used as weapons against ports. “And making it particularly difficult to address these threats is the fact that we don’t have a complete operation picture of the domestic and international recreational boating public, their travel patterns, and the facilities that they use,” said Chertoff. “While we’ve made tremendous strides in port and cargo security and protecting our coastal and inland waterways, we have some serious security gaps that we need to close.”

Chertoff said that he wants to use boaters as “the eyes and ears” of law enforcement agencies to prevent possible terrorist threats. “The strategy recognizes as a cornerstone that as members of the small vessel community, you have a stake in securing maritime domain,” he said. “If it turns out we see bombs exploding on our waterways, it is not going to be really good for boaters, and it’s not going to be really good for the boating business. We all have not only a stake as citizens but there’s an economic business case for being involved in this partnership to manage the risk.”

Chertoff said that programs like America’s Waterway Watch, in which boaters report suspicious activities to the Coast Guard through a National Response Center, has resulted in some successes with criminals. “This is a program that works and we want to continue to make sure it is supported and grows,” he said.

Chertoff also said that Homeland Security would compile and share information to identify potential threats. “A little more information allows us to target more precisely the people that we all ought to be worried about as opposed to taking a kind of a broad gauged, sweeping approach, which actually winds up inconveniencing more people,” he said.

The CBP Pleasure Boat Reporting System, the Coast Guard’s Vessel Identification System, and the Coast Guard’s Marine Information for Safety and Law Enforcement would be used to identify possible threats. “Building and integrating this kind of information as well as other intelligence sources, information from the State Department, from foreign governments, and the use of trusted-traveler programs will give us a better picture of who is out there and allow us to be more focused on who we need to be concerned about,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard might lower its tonnage rule for ships to include more commercial vessels and large yachts in a rule that requires 96-hour advance notice before entering US ports.

“The third area of our strategy is leveraging technology, because using technology gives us a real value add in our ability to identify, pursue and respond to threats,” said Chertoff. “Again, we don’t want to track every little boat out there on the waterways. But we do want to explore options with respect to surveillance and traffic, particularly in high-risk critical infrastructure areas. We’re not looking to comprehensive, have big brother on sea, but we do need to start to look at some of the areas of risk to make sure we have a visibility to who’s moving around in those areas.”

Chertoff said that Homeland Security will expand “investment and research” into small-vehicle identification systems, but he avoided saying specifically that they would be installed on all boats.

The Coast Guard is also testing a pilot program in Washington state that detects radioactive or nuclear material on small vessels entering a port. “Vessels coming into the channel entering into a port area would pass by detection devices,” said Chertoff. “They wouldn’t have to stop. And those detection devices would be configured to determine whether or not there are radioactive admissions of a kind that are associated with a possible dirty bomb or nuclear device.”

“Finally, we want to continue to enhance our coordination and communication among all of our partners,” said Chertoff. “This means not only domestic partners, obviously but foreign partners as well. So, within our own department we are cross training between Customs, and Border Protection and Coast Guard so that we can leverage the capabilities of both components across each of them. To the extent we can, with respect to those foreign countries that operate adjacent to our water, we want do the same kind of partnering that will further leverage and increase our ability to have an umbrella of protection around our waterways.”

The full DHS Small Vessel Security Strategy report can be viewed at

(2 May 2008)

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