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U.S. Coast Guard 2011: Year in Review

The U.S. Coast Guard is both a law enforcement organization and a military force – the only branch of the armed forces residing outside of the Department of Defense. This simple fact, along with its 11 statutory missions, has compelled the Coast Guard to favor versatility over specialization. Different observers, viewing the same white Coast Guard cutter offshore, might see it as a forward-deployed interceptor of illegal drug shipments, a guardian of American fish stocks, a potential first responder to a natural or man-made disaster, an antiterrorism asset capable of stopping an incursion, or a crew ready to perform search and rescue (SAR) operations. All of these observers would be right.

Another quality, one that can be traced to the Coast Guard’s earliest roots in the tiny Revenue Cutter and Life-Saving services, is its ability to innovate. It’s impossible, if you understand the scope of what the service does, not to be surprised by the limits of its resources. In fiscal year 2011, the Coast Guard fulfilled its 11 missions and paid its way – its 49,595 military personnel, its 244 cutters, 1,784 boats, 195 aircraft, and a mission portfolio executed from shore installations throughout the world – with about $10.2 billion, or slightly more than the cost of three B-2 stealth bombers.

As an integral component of the U.S. armed forces, the Coast Guard has, since the onset of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, made its largest commitment to port security since World War II. At the height of operations, 1,200 Coast Guard members were in theater in Iraq and Afghanistan; today, the Coast Guard’s eight Port Security Units continue to rotate in and out of places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. In FY 2011, Coast Guard personnel continued the deployment of six patrol boats and 400 crew members to the Arabian Gulf to protect Iraq’s critical maritime oil infrastructure and train Iraqi naval forces. Throughout the theater of operations, specialized teams known as Redeployment Assistance Inspection Detachments – within the command structure of another of the Coast Guard’s Deployable Specialized Forces, Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) – ensure the safety and security of cargo and supplies shipped into and out of war zones. Through these inspections, escorts, and patrols, the Coast Guard provided security for more than 230 military cargo outloads in FY 2011 alone.


Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security

The Coast Guard’s dedication to port security overseas is an extension of capabilities it has refined since its original charter in 1790, when the cutters of the revenue marine were charged with protecting the nation’s ports, coasts, and inland waterways.

U.S. Coast Guard Security Boarding

A boarding party from Coast Guard Cutter Haddock approaches a Hong Kong-flagged tanker to conduct a security boarding off the coast of San Diego on June 2, 2011. The boarding team inspect ships for proper documentation and any safety or security hazards as part of their role in maritime security. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry G. Dunphy

In today’s Coast Guard, prevention efforts – education, training, inspection, certification, and examination programs – are a key component of the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission. For example, under the Area Maritime Security Training and Exercise Program (AMSTEP), the service supports preparedness efforts through federal, state, local, and private-sector partnerships. More then 50 AMSTEP events were held throughout FY 2011.

At commercial waterfront facilities regulated under federal law, the Coast Guard conducted 6,500 security inspections in FY 2011, as well as 7,200 inspections of U.S.-flagged vessels. Aided by fully portable electronic scanners that were phased in last year, the Coast Guard also verified the identification credentials of 70,760 transportation workers.

Port security involves every link in the supply chain, and the Coast Guard reaches out to trading partners overseas to achieve compliance with international security standards and regulations. Through its Port State Control program, the Coast Guard inspects foreign-flagged ships entering U.S. ports – more than 9,500 total in FY 2011 – and in executing its International Port Security program, it evaluates port facilities, vessels, and personnel at more than 160 ports in 62 of the United States’ maritime trading partners. Though originally an anti-terrorism measure, the work of International Port Security Liaison Officers in Pacific port facilities has the potential to deter activities such as drug or contraband smuggling, human trafficking, or other transnational crimes.

The Coast Guard also conducts patrols and security boardings in support of its mission – not only in and around ports, waterways, and coastal regions, but also near maritime critical infrastructure such as bridges and waterfront facilities. Literally tens of thousands of boardings were conducted in FY 2011 on small vessels, vessels in fixed security zones or near critical infrastructure, vessels carrying dangerous cargoes, high-capacity ferries and cruise ships, and other vessels of high interest.

To keep illegal drug shipments from reaching U.S. shores, the Coast Guard partners with the U.S. Navy, placing Law Enforcement Detachment teams aboard Navy vessels – or, sometimes, those of an ally in one of its 37 bilateral counter-drug agreements – in the transit zone comprising the maritime approaches to the United States from Central and South America. Eleven percent of the drug removals carried out in FY 2011 – in which the Coast Guard detained 191 suspected smugglers, seized 40 vessels, and removed 75.3 metric tons of cocaine – were achieved through these alliances.

Through patrols near and beyond the maritime border, the Coast Guard serves as both a law enforcement and intelligence-gathering organization, and performs the important task of migrant interdiction. In the past two years, attempts to cross the Southwest border by sea have become increasingly frequent, often attempted in small, unseaworthy boats. Preventing loss of life is the top priority in migrant interdiction cases. The Coast Guard interdicted 2,747 undocumented migrants attempting to enter the United States during FY 2011.

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