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North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum

Partners on the leading edge of their mission areas

The North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum (NACGF) promotes and facilitates cooperation and the exchange of information between agencies with coast guard missions. The NACGF is an informal and non-binding entity. However, the 16 different countries that are regularly represented derive meaningful benefit from membership and lasting cooperative relationships.

According to Athar A. Pirzada, the U.S. Coast Guard’s regional adviser for the Middle East in the Office of International Affairs, the NACGF is a vehicle through which like-minded organizations share information and best practices. It is not formally structured and carries no authority of its own. However, he said, it is sometimes the best way for members to build and sustain cooperative relationships in critical mission areas.

“Each agency sits at a different position in the organizational hierarchy to their government,” Pirzada said. “But we all can share lessons learned based on everyone’s own experiences, and agencies can better represent themselves to their own governments based on how it’s done elsewhere.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has a wide mission set with its 11 statutory missions. But not every coast guard is alike. Missions, authorities, and capabilities of NACGF members vary widely, from the Finnish border guards to the Portuguese navy. Some of the organizations have wide-ranging national missions (like the U.S. Coast Guard) while others are exclusively focusing on a single mission. The U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), for example, is solely responsible for maritime search and rescue (SAR). Additionally, many of MCA’s rescue missions are conducted by nonprofit organizations, such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), which has more than 225 stations and more than 400 boats. In Ireland, the Irish Coast Guard is responsible for SAR and environmental response, but the Irish Police are responsible for maritime safety, illegal migration, and drug trafficking, and the Sea-Fishery Protection Authorities is in charge of fisheries enforcement.

“Each agency sits at a different position in the organizational hierarchy to their government,” Pirzada said. “But we all can share lessons learned based on everyone’s own experiences, and agencies can better represent themselves to their own governments based on how it’s done elsewhere.”

All the agencies share common needs and challenges, such as recruitment, information and technology systems, procurement and maintenance, operations, and interagency coordination. The NACGF has six subcommittee working groups: search and rescue; environmental response; maritime security, illegal drug trafficking; illegal migration; and fisheries enforcement.

The NACGF essentially allows the U.S. Coast Guard the opportunity to regularly engage numerous countries with whom the nation would not otherwise have the opportunity. Each year one country steps up to be chair, hosting both the experts meeting and summit. For the first time, the United States will be the host in 2019.

It’s important for the United States to participate. The NACGF looks at a wide range of maritime issues, from migrant tracking to SAR to antiterrorism and fisheries enforcement. “We look at trends and technologies that affect our maritime domain across all of our collective mission sets,” said Capt. Robert Warren, chief of response for the 1st Coast Guard District.

International cooperation is critical for dealing with threats and challenges that may ignore boundaries, like criminal activity or oil spills. There are tangible benefits to all participants when sharing information, lessons learned, and best practices. For example, there are many offshore windfarms in Europe, but only one so far in the United States. The NACGF has been helpful for the United States to understand how those nations deal with them. “We’re just wrapping our arms around this from the perspective of SAR and living marine resources,” said Warren.

Some countries are harnessing capabilities offered by emerging technologies. The Irish Coast Guard is using drones to search for missing persons along Ireland’s rocky coastline, a new use for technology that they are sharing with other members of the NACGF. Last year the Canadian Coast Guard delivered a presentation on human resource challenges in recruiting and retaining specialized personnel, a shared challenge for many maritime organizations.

“We have very capable and developed partners who are on the leading edge of their coast guard mission areas,” said Warren. “We all share and receive alike. It really is the meeting of experts.”

“The NACGF is ultimately an opportunity to enhance our ability to deliver services at home through leveraging what we have learned from our international partners, as well as share our knowledge and expertise to enhance the ability of other coast guards,” said Benoit Mayrand, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard.

The NACGF conducts exercises and provides a means to cooperate on SAR, fisheries enforcement, and other missions. During a recent mass rescue exercise involving a cruise ship that caught fire and grounded, Warren said the Coast Guard developed and refined a mass rescue plan. Other nations that participated also offered their plans. Now the Netherlands has taken on the role of fusing the different templates to come up with a version that can be used by all.

“The NACGF is ultimately an opportunity to enhance our ability to deliver services at home through leveraging what we have learned from our international partners, as well as share our knowledge and expertise to enhance the ability of other coast guards,” said Benoit Mayrand, a spokesperson for the Canadian Coast Guard. “Members can also leverage the forum to strengthen existing and identify new opportunities for bilateral relationships.”

A recurring accomplishment of the forum is GuardEX, an annual live exercise that seeks to enhance interoperability between members. “The 2018 GuardEX was held off the Belgian coast in the North Sea and simulated safety and security incidents. Given the resources and time required to host large-scale live exercises, the NACGF offers a rare opportunity for coast guards to witness firsthand how other organizations operate and take away lessons learned,” Mayrand said.

“We’re across [the] Atlantic from most of the other members. So, it’s a great way for the U.S. and Canada to see what’s important to those agencies in Europe,” said Cmdr. Ann Bassolino, chief of external affairs for the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “There may be challenges that are arising that we are not yet aware of.”

Mayrand agreed. “This is particularly valuable to the Canadian Coast Guard, as we are able to gain an understanding of the practices and activities of European coast guards [that] tend to collaborate closely through other Europe-focused fora.”

Bassolino said the NACGF builds mutual respect between the organizations. “It’s about working together in the maritime domain. Yes, we all have multiple agencies we deal with, but the maritime domain connects us.”

NACGF member countries:

Belgium

Canada

Denmark

Finland

France

Germany

Iceland

Ireland

Latvia

Netherlands

Norway

Portugal

Spain

Sweden

United Kingdom

United States

 

By

Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...