The Virginian-Pilot newspaper reports today on a maritime security exercise taking place this week in Hampton Roads, involving the Coast Guard, US Navy, and the FBI:
The exercise, named Frontier Sentinel, will simulate a cargo ship headed toward the Virginia/North Carolina coasts with radioactive material inside a container. The ship’s captain refuses the Coast Guard’s request to be boarded.
Using the newly formed Maritime Security Response Team, a Chesapeake-based Coast Guard unit formed a year ago, members will board a Coast Guard H-60 helicopter out of Wilmington, N.C., land on a Navy ship for fuel and resupply, then head to sea to intercept the suspect ship. A Coast Guard cutter also will play in the maneuvers.
Team members will rappel down to seize control of the ship. FBI agents also will be aboard as observers, helping the military understand their role. In a real situation, their purpose would be to secure the radioactive material aboard and gather evidence.
The exercise derives from the Maritime Operational Threat Response plan, one of the eight supporting plans to the National Strategy for Maritime Security. And it is highly consistent with the discussion at a port security conference in New York City last week, officials spoke about the significance of this threat and the importance of interagency cooperation:
[Adm. Thad Allen] was met with loud and sustained applause when he called for a Navy-Coast Guard effort, more joint than ever before, to keep the homeland shores safe from terror. Speaking of his beloved Coast Guard, he said, “We do not want to be the worldâ€™s second best navy. We want to be the worldâ€™s best coast guard. We already have the worldâ€™s best navy, and with the worldâ€™s best navy and coast guard combined we will have the best possible force for the maritime security regime.”
However, there are still challenges associated with cooperation; for example, see this report by the DOJ’s Inspector General in April, which looks at the jurisdictional tension between the FBI and Coast Guard on maritime security. Hopefully this exercise, and future ones like it, are a step toward clarifying and resolving these jurisdictional issues.