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U.S. Coast Guard Secures the Global Supply Chain

In January 2011, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano publicly identified the security of the global supply chain as a focal point for the department. The resulting Secure Supply Chain Initiative is aimed at making transport systems and pathways – air, land, and sea – more secure, efficient, and resilient. Because all commerce is global now, the secretary emphasized the establishment of international guidelines and standards, and met with the secretaries general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the World Customs Organization, as well as the leadership of the Universal Postal Union.

What is the Coast Guard’s role in global supply chain security? As you might imagine, it is a leader in ensuring the security of maritime commerce. The Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 charged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with assessing the effectiveness of anti-terrorism measures in foreign ports and with offering training programs in ports where security standards appeared to be inadequate – tasks the secretary delegated to the Coast Guard.

The service responded to this mandate by formulating the International Port Security (IPS) Program in 2004; by 2008, it has visited almost all U.S. trading partners at least once.

Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Burkett, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area international port security liaison officer; Lt. Eric May, Coast Guard international port security liaison; and Karen St. Cyr, economic development manager with the Port of Greater Baton Rouge, escort delegates from Cameroon around the port, April 13, 2011. The delegates were shown presentations from Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Baton Rouge and the Greater Port of Baton Rouge, and given a tour of the port along the Mississippi River. U. S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel

Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Quirino, deputy chief of the IPS Program, said a guiding philosophy is the acknowledgment that the United States cannot dictate security measures to other countries. “The U.S. does not have the authority to ‘inspect’ ports in sovereign foreign countries,” he said, “so what we do is, in a diplomatic way, is to encourage countries to enter into bilateral exchanges of port security best practices and measures with the U.S., whereby they allow us to look at their port security and talk to their folks who are responsible for port security. And we do the same.” On reciprocal visits, foreign officials are typically briefed at Coast Guard Headquarters, and then travel to a specific sector to visit with the captain of the port (COTP) and tour port facilities.

Foreign visits are performed by a small cadre of globe-trotting international port security liaison officers (IPSLOs), who cover the globe out of offices based in Tokyo, Singapore, Rotterdam, and the East and West coasts of the United States. An IPSLO – part diplomat, part maritime security officer – can come from anywhere within the Coast Guard, said Quirino: “We have aviators. We have ship drivers. We have marine safety personnel. We have active-duty and reservists. We have civilians. … The operational commander would tell you it’s not required to have a marine safety background, particularly, to do this job. It’s required to have someone with the right attitude, a hard charger and a high-performing officer.”

The IPSLO’s role is, largely, to exchange ideas with high-level security officials through constant communication – email, telephone conversations, and occasional visits. In tours of port facilities, the focus is kept on the facility’s implementation of the International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code, a standard established by the IMO to encourage appropriate preventive measures by ship and port facilities.

While the focus of these communications is on exchanging best practices, these practices are evaluated every two years, when Coast Guard IPS personnel – distinct from the IPSLOs, whose involvement might complicate their good working relationship with a host country – visit facilities and assess their security measures.

For a variety of reasons, IPS Program assessments occasionally reveal facilities lacking in adequate anti-terrorism measures, and a nation’s ports are added to the Coast Guard’s Port Security Advisory (PSA) list. As a result, additional conditions of entry – increasing the vessel’s normal security measures, for example – are imposed on vessels visiting those countries.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...