Courtesy of the The
By Jaquetta White
For three weeks, Coast Guard Lt.
Suzanne Gille has spent the better part of her days asking
questions, tons of questions.
"What's behind this door?" "Why
is the door locked?" "Who has the key?" "What happens if the key
is lost?" she asked in rapid succession Sunday while aboard the
Genmar Strength, a Liberian-flagged crude oil tanker that was
anchored in the Mississippi River near Belle Chasse.
It's not that Gille is
especially curious. Asking questions is her job.
"We may ask the same question to
five different people," Gille said.
Gille is part of a U.S. Coast
Guard team assigned to inspect foreign-flagged ships for
security compliance. Since July 1, Coast Guard inspectors such
as Gille have been required to board every foreign-flagged ship
calling on U.S. ports. In the past, such boardings were random.
The boardings are called for in
two new regulations designed to thwart terrorism in U.S. ports.
Since July 1, the Coast Guard
has boarded 1,249 foreign-flagged ships in various U.S. waters
to check for their compliance with security rules. Twenty-four
ships were denied entry into or expelled from the country.
Another 50 were detained because they raised security concerns,
such as failing to have a proper lock on the engine room. The
rest were deemed safe enough to proceed to port.
In the lower Mississippi River,
the Coast Guard has conducted 261 boardings. Ten ships were
detained; none was turned away.
About 20 Coast Guards members in
10 teams inspect ships in the lower Mississippi.
No dogs, X-rays in use
Although many in the maritime
industry say the new rules and Coast Guard boardings have
already made the nation's ports and waterways safer, others have
For example, the Coast Guard
teams don't use bomb- or drug-sniffing dogs, radiation detectors
or X-ray equipment. The inspectors don't pop open containers or
peek behind every door. They mostly make sure the ship is
adhering to its security plan, even though the inspectors cannot
demand to see the plan.
That raises some red flags for
"We just don't know whether that
process is effective yet," said Wrightson, director of homeland
security and justice for the U.S. Government Accountability
Office. Wrightson co-authored a congressional report released in
June that studied the new regulations.
Vincent Monica, an agent for
Marine Endeavors Shipping Co., the company representing the
Genmar Strength in the United States, isn't sure the security
inspections or the rules that come along with them have done
much to improve security. Monica said ship crews have always
been alert for terrorist activity because piracy still occurs.
For him the biggest change has
been in the amount of paperwork that shippers have to do. Asked
whether he thinks ships are safer from terrorists, he said: "If
somebody wants to do something, they'll find a way."
But George Duffy, president of
NSA Agencies, which is the local representative for several
shipping lines, said he gives the new system an A+. He said the
new regulations are enough to keep potential terrorists away.
"There's more due diligence in
making sure that the ships are secure," Duffy said.
The Coast Guard is responsible
for enforcing the International Ship and Port Security Code and
its domestic counterpart, the Maritime Transportation Security
Act of 2002. Both went into effect July 1. The codes require the
Coast Guard to verify that each foreign ship has an alarm
system, monitors its entrances and has a system to prevent
people from wandering into a restricted area, such as the engine
Furthermore, ships must receive
security certificates from their home country. Ships that don't
have them can be turned back.
The new rules are not limited to
vessels. Ports and other maritime transportation businesses had
to submit security plans to the Coast Guard by Dec. 31. The
plans detail the steps each would take to develop or improve
their security plans.
During the boarding of the
Genmar Strength, it was clear that inspectors were concerned
about security, such as making sure the vessel has someone who
monitors people boarding or leaving the ship and that the engine
room has a lock.
After meeting briefly with the
ship's captain, Gille inspected the Genmar Strength with the
ship's first officer, Telmo Cordeiro, while her partner, Chief
Warrant Officer Doug Chapman, stayed with the captain to verify
security documents, including the security certificate, records
of past ports of call and records of security drills.
For the most part, the
inspection is only a check to ensure that the crew is working to
be safer, Gille said.
"What we're looking for is
intent," she said. "The purpose is to create a safe framework."
"The idea is that if there is an
imminent threat, we'll prevent that as well," said Jolie
Shifflet, a Coast Guard spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. But the
primary purpose of the boardings is to hold vessels accountable
for their own security.
"Just like when you do a safety
inspection, the point is to make sure the crew has in place
procedures that would make it safe and secure," Shifflet said.
Shifflet said the Coast Guard
seldom conducts armed boardings with dogs and radiation or X-ray
equipment. Those boardings are usually reserved for
"high-interest" ships. Shifflet declined to say what percentage
of ships calling U.S. ports are considered high interest.
However, she said ships from
Panama, Cyprus, Antigua, Bolivia, Honduras and Malta raise extra
security concerns because they often have trouble passing safety
and environmental checks.
Other ships, such as the Genmar
Strength, are left in the hands of the Coast Guard inspectors
who, despite their limited access aboard the ships, must
determine whether a vessel is secure. They do that by asking
questions. Lots of questions.
Many of the questions are aimed
at scoping out whether the ship's crew is competent and
truthful. Gille, for example, said she might ask the same
question of five people to see whether the answers are
Aboard the Genmar Strength,
Gille was not allowed to view the ship's security plan, which
details the measures the crew has in place to improve security.
To view it, Gille would need a good reason and the approval of
the ship's flag state, which approved the plan. So she has to
rely on a set of general security questions to determine the
ship's potential threat.
"It's difficult because we're
not seeing their plan," Gille said. "We have to believe what
Wrightson said she is concerned
because the Coast Guard is relying not only on the inspectors to
ask adequate questions but also on other countries to do proper
security checks before approving security plans.
The Genmar Strength eventually
passed its security inspection, although it did have one minor
glitch involving the crew's understanding of how to use the
vessel sign-in log. The crew member in charge of controlling
access at the gangway had in some cases failed to require
visitors and crew members to sign out.
"There are some minor things
that need to be tweaked," Gille said. "They're compliant with
the code. It's just a matter of personal training. The intent is