Coast Guardsmen with the Port Safety and Security unit with Coast Guard Sector Maryland-National Capital Region perform inspections of hazardous material shipments at the Port of Baltimore in Maryland on Sept. 18, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Ferdinando)

Coast Guard Prepares for Emerging Challenges in Evolving Maritime Commerce Environment

Adapting to fresh challenges from technological advances that the maritime industry relies upon to increase efficiency will be critical in securing the nation’s ports and waterways in the years to come, the Coast Guard concluded in its new Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook.

“American prosperity remains inextricably linked to the fate of the maritime environment,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz wrote in the foreword of the report. “In an era of increasing technological and political change, we continue to be a maritime nation that has come to expect free access to, and movement within, the maritime environment.”

That includes 95,000 miles of shoreline, 25,000 miles of navigable channels, 20,000 bridges over water, and 361 commercial ports. Currently 90 percent of U.S. imports and exports arrive and depart by ship, and by 2025 worldwide demand for waterborne commerce is expected to more than double.

“The Coast Guard must anticipate transformative changes in technology and maritime governance in order to retain our leadership role providing for the safety, security, and stewardship of our nation’s precious ocean, bay, and river resources,” Schultz added. “Through collaborative leadership and strategic vision, the Coast Guard will maintain and grow our strategic advantage in the maritime domain, forever fostering a prosperous and secure America.”

The Marine Transportation System supports $4.6 trillion of economic activity each year, translating into 23 million American jobs.

“The MTS also enables critical national security sealift capabilities, supporting U.S. Armed Forces’ logistical requirements around the globe,” the report notes. “Any significant disruption to the MTS, whether man-made or natural, has the potential to cause cascading and devastating impact to our domestic and global supply chain and, consequently, America’s economy and national security.”

Factors that threaten maritime commerce and challenge the Coast Guard include aging waterways and congested ports, increased cyber risks due to greater maritime interconnectivity, and operational issues arising from autonomous vehicles and other technological advancements.

“To best ensure an efficient, safe, and secure MTS, the Coast Guard must keep pace with technological advancements, invest in capabilities, leverage artificial intelligence, apply big data analytics, recruit and retain a highly educated workforce, and adapt to the changing environment,” the report found. “Over the next decade, the Coast Guard must have the adaptive capacity, strategic awareness, and modern systems, assets, and workforce to facilitate, safeguard, and advance commerce on America’s waterways.”

The Maritime Commerce Strategic Outlook, which is intended to be a living document that evolves with the maritime security landscape, outlines three main priorities for the USCG: ensuring lawful trade and travel continues unimpeded on secure waterways, modernizing navigation aids and mariner information systems, and “transforming workforce capacity and partnerships.”

The document also outlines “enabling concepts” to lead the USCG into the future: unity of effort, adaptive-focused service, marine transportation as a national priority, investment in the future, situational awareness, and international engagement with key trading partners to further these goals.

“Larger vessels and increased demands on the MTS have escalated the risk of collisions, allisions, groundings, security and environmental incidents. Since 1968, container carrying capacity has increased by approximately 1,200 percent,” the report states. “…This trend of rising capacity and efficiency propels innovations in vessel and port design and operations, and places increasing demands on the MTS and its intermodal infrastructure. Current trends indicate that U.S. container volumes will continue to expand and container ships calling at U.S. ports will continue to grow in size.”

Networked systems and incorporation of Internet of Things advancements in shipboard systems and port technologies, along with automation, “are causing tremendous change across the MTS.”

“The trend in networked ship systems renders critical shipboard operations increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks,” the report continues. “Long-range monitoring of shipboard networked IoT systems further exposes these vessels and the MTS to risk via cyber attack.”

The document also stresses the challenges of the changing Arctic caused by melting ice and increasing open waters. “The physical changes of the Arctic sea ice increases the viability of the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage for commercial shipping during summer months,” it notes. “…Decreasing sea ice and diminishing onshore oil production are creating incentives for further exploration offshore. These activities bring risk, which can be mitigated through appropriate maritime governance, marine planning, and capabilities development.”

The Coast Guard looks to mitigate risk to critical infrastructure, including “low-probability but high-consequence events, such as those on board high-capacity passenger vessels, chemical and gas ships carrying dangerous cargoes, and floating facilities and vessels working on the outer continental shelf.”

USCG plans to “expand a prevention regime that relies on existing authorities for risk governance for port facilities and vessels, tying safety and security compliance to recognized industry cybersecurity standards,” expand risk-based Maritime Security and Response activities “such as security boardings, fixed and moving (vessel escorts) security zone enforcement and aerial, shore-side, and waterborne patrols to address emerging threats,” “improve security procedures, facilitate dialogue, and share best practices” to keep threats from reaching U.S. ports,  and “enhance Maritime Domain Awareness and information sharing among maritime security partners.”

To build resiliency within the global supply chain, the Coast Guard intends to “assess and update existing triage models for re-opening ports following widespread disruptions and port closures,” “optimize the effective use of safety management systems,” identify “physical aids to navigation critical to opening ports following natural disasters or emergencies,” “analyze protocols for the resumption of trade in the event of a transportation disruption,” and “advance the operational flexibility of the inland tender fleet to ensure a sufficient surge capacity for emergency events.”

“As user interactions in the global maritime environment grow more complex, collaboration is more critical than ever. The Coast Guard continually seeks to improve these relationships and identify new opportunities for engagement,” the report stresses. “The Coast Guard relies on industry and allied agency partnerships to achieve results, and many performance initiatives depend on coordinated effort with external stakeholders.”

Schultz predicted that the outlook’s multi-pronged approach will “guide our service efforts in securing this strategically critical maritime environment while enabling its impact on our nation’s economic prosperity.”

Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a weekly columnist for the New York Observer and a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and Washington Bureau Chief for PJ Media. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera and SiriusXM.

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