Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 22, 2006

Coast Guard giving ships advance warning about inspections

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security — by Christian Beckner on May 22, 2006

Over the weekend the New York Times reported on the fact that the Coast Guard is giving ships at sea advance warning of its intention to board and inspect them:

Under intense pressure from shipping companies concerned about costly delays, the Coast Guard is tipping off some large commercial ships about security searches that had been a surprise, according to high-ranking Coast Guard officials.

The searches began after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a major revamping of the Coast Guard and its new antiterrorism mission. But shipping companies say the surprise boardings at sea cause unnecessary delays, costing up to $40,000 an hour.

“We’re trying to facilitate commerce and keep the port secure — and sometimes the two conflict,” said Capt. Paul E. Wiedenhoeft, who is in charge of the port complex here at Los Angeles and Long Beach. “When possible, we’re trying to give shippers as much notice as we can.”

The practice has caused considerable confusion and debate within the Coast Guard. Commanders in some ports acknowledged in interviews that they provided up to 24-hour notice. Others said the practice undermined the inspections.

This practice of advance notification should stop immediately; it defeats the entire purpose of conducting these inspections. Sure, I’d like get a call from the highway patrol letting me know exactly where they’ll be patroling on the freeway each morning, but that would defeat the very purpose of traffic cops. The same thing is true in this instance, and this needs to stop.

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1 Comment »

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 23, 2006 @ 2:41 am

Assuming the Coast Guard has broad authority for “warrantless searches” then the question may be more as to whether these stops are completely random or if there is a decision process reflecting knowledge of possible criminal activity or of intelligence gathering assistance. In either case it would probably enhance the undertstanding of the shipping companies if there were a published opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel Department of Justice that would provide a bright line between rights and duties of both the Coast Guard and the shipping companies rather than simple reliance on gut feelings. These searches are both a “shield” and a “sword” should everyone should understand the rules.

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