Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 1, 2006

Coast Guard tackles the small boat threat

Filed under: Port and Maritime Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on June 1, 2006

In an interview today with Reuters, new Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen discussed an item that he intends to have at the top of his agenda: countering the threat from explosive-bearing small boats. From the story:

The United States must close security gaps that could let small boats packed with explosives slip into ports and stage attacks like the one that killed 17 men on the U.S. warship Cole in Yemen, the new Coast Guard chief said on Wednesday.


Adm. Thad Allen, who took over as commandant of the Coast Guard last week, said officials had to do more to help thwart such stealthy strikes, which could cause massive damage to ports, oil facilities, ports, cruise ships or tankers.

“Our own threat analysis and vulnerability analysis tell us there is a significant threat by vessel-borne improvised explosive devices,” Allen told Reuters in an interview.

“We haven’t put nearly as much thinking in science and technology and (general) thought into the small-vessel threat as we need to, and I think that’s where we need to go next.”

….As one of his first goals in office, Allen is devising a new security strategy over the next few months which will look at issues such as the small-boat threat, as well as the feasibility of licensing a broader range of boats or imposing exclusion zones around some high-risk areas.

Current shipping regulations, such as the United Nations International Ship and Port Facility Security code and related U.S. Maritime Transportation Security Act, focus on large commercial ships, not the roughly 60 million U.S. recreational vessels.

There is no national registry or national system of operator licensing for recreational boats.

This decision to focus on the small-vessel threat represents a change of tack for the Coast Guard, which has largely focused, at least by all public appearances, on large vessels and seaport facility security. Addressing this threat will not be easy, given the large number of recreational boats in the nation’s waterways and their relative anonymity, but I’m glad to see that Allen is not deterred by the challenge. And I’m curious to hear what he has in mind in terms of new technologies that might address this threat. The development of the Nationwide Automatic Identification System will certainly play a role. But many of the technologies that have been developed to address this threat are designed to be used in a military context and aggressively prevent a USS Cole-type attack – but these technologies are not necessarily appropriate in a domestic context. There are a few technologies out there that seem suited for the domestic environment, but a lot more R&D is needed to address this threat.

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1 Comment »

Comment by Charles Hawley

March 5, 2007 @ 5:43 pm

It is difficult to see what would be accomplished by a national boating ID card that would not be solved by the requirement that boaters carry their driver’s licenses when on the water. Those under driving age might be required to have a state-issued ID card. Just as having a driver’s license doesn’t prevent drunk driving, it is hard to know what purpose would be served by requiring a national (redundant) form of ID specifically for boaters.

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