High Seas Security

On July 22, most Americans were transfixed by the release of the Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States—generally known as the 9/11 Commission Report. But the maritime cargo industry was transfixed by other news, as well: That day, the US Coast Guard ordered the Turkish cargo vessel Cenk Kaptanoglu, carrying a load of steel, to a secure anchorage.

According to some accounts, the vessel hadlong been under Coast Guard surveillance because ofits crewmembers’proclivity to jump ship in port. Annoyed by Coast Guard queries, thecaptain allegedly threatened to detonate a bomb once he docked inPhiladelphia.

It was like making a joke about a bomb in anairport and Coast Guard officers took it very seriously. While the shipwas finally allowed to dock and unload the weekend of July 24, as ofthis writing the incident remained under investigation. According toSuzanne Tavani, a spokesperson for the Kaptanoglu Ship Management Co.,the captain did not say he was going to detonate a bomb.

“There’s still some dispute over what he said,” she told HSToday.“I can tell you that it wasn’t to detonate a bomb.” However, sheacknowledged, “There was some statement about a bomb”—but she couldn’tclarify the nature of the statement. The company wouldn’t commentfurther.

In itself, the incident will probably fadeinto obscurity. But it did represent a microcosm of the present stateof maritime security, where regulators and law enforcement muddlethrough using only a combination of finely honed instincts andoccasional bits of actionable intelligence.

Stephen Flynn, author of the book America the Vulnerable, which was released the same day, told HSToday:“The incident highlights just how far we have to go in developing thekind of shared sense of purpose and urgency on advancing securitywithin the maritimesector between government inspectors and commercialship operators.”

The commission’s impact

The 9/11 Commission Report offered dozens ofsuggestions that, if properly implemented, could accelerate fixes tothe state of maritime security—and improve the industry as a whole.

In 2002, the United States prodded thefractious International Maritime Organization (IMO, the UN diplomaticbody that sets international maritime law) toward reforms that wouldhelp secure international shipping. In the United States, a mere threeweeks before the Cenk Kaptanoglu affair, the country adopted theInternational Ship and Port Security Code (ISPS), a groundbreaking setof security measures.

But much more remains to be done, and the United States must lead both at home and abroad.

At a very high level, a lack of centrality inthe maritime business bedeviled American policymakers long before Sept.11, 2001. In congressional testimony, Coast Guard officials repeatedlysaid the United States could not unilaterally regulate the entireinternational shipping business. Foreign countries, not the US CoastGuard, approve the security of their vessels, and these standards varywidely.

In its report, the commission noted the needfor international cooperation to provide truly transparent views of avessel’s ownership and control. This would also assist the UnitedStates in tracking financial movements in the maritime business.

Maritime intelligence sharing

The commission recommends greater informationsharing and movement toward common data architectures among federalagencies. But such sharing won’t occur until all the federal, state andlocal agencies concerned with maritime security start working off thesame screen. Agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)have taken baby steps in this direction, but the current situation isnothing like that envisioned by the commission. And the kind ofmaritime NORAD (North American Air Defense Command) championed by Adm.Vern Clark, the US chief of naval operations, certainly won’t befeasible until this is accomplished.

The maritime intelligence sharing that doesoccur takes place too far down the chain of command—not on the con butmainly in the boilers feeding the stovepipes.

The Coast Guard has been flirting with anumber of schemes for describing vessel movements and handling whenships are 96 hours away from US ports. But the Coast Guard proposalswork on software platforms completely different from the AutomatedManifest System operated by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP).This system was originally created to determine duty payments. Now it’sbeing used for intelligence targeting and inspections. Information onship crews and passengers is being sent to the Coast Guard, thanks toold Immigration and Naturalization Service forms.

Currently in the works is a link to theAdvanced Passenger Information System, which is a step in the rightdirection. But presently, the Coast Guard and CBP, suddenly joinedthrough DHS, are looking at the same vessels for people and dangerousor hidden cargo using systems that reflect their pre-DHS missions.

The Coast Guard’s Homeland Security Strategytrumpets information sharing efforts with the shadowy Office of NavalIntelligence. Yet a DHS fact sheet titled Secure Sea, Open Ports(http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/DHSPortSecurityFactSheet-062104.pdf) describes Coast Guard data fusioncenters in Norfolk, Va., and Alameda, Calif., separate from the CBP’sNational Targeting Center in northern Virginia.

The people problem

People, unlike cargo, have historicallyresisted anything smacking of profiling. However, the commission’srecommendations on screening (“The President should direct theDepartment of Homeland Security to lead the effort to design acomprehensive screening system, addressing common problems and settingcommon standards with system-wide goals in mind”) and the mobility ofpeople (“The United States should combine terrorist travelintelligence, operations, and law enforcement in a strategy tointercept terrorists, find terrorist travel facilitators and constrainterrorist mobility”) bring fresh thought to the subject.

In late March, the International LaborOrganization (ILO) adopted a new identification document for over amillion seafarers on international vessels, many of whom are fromdeveloping countries. The new identity card, replacing the previousversion, which was based on a 1958 standard, includes a biometrictemplate enabling fingerprints to be stored as a bar code meeting worldstandards. If seafarer data were instantly and seamlessly linked toworldwide watchlists, DHS would have a vast array of powerful tools totake it beyond the gut feel and instinct of its savvy frontliners, suchas those in Philadelphia.

The ILO’s work at the international levelcomes as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is trying toput the final touches on a domestic Transportation Work IdentificationCredential (TWIC), which has been stymied by compatibility issues amongvarious regional credentialing offices. TWIC interoperability with anew US merchant mariner document (which will conform to ILO standards),is a glimmer of improvement dimly visible on a very distant horizon.

Between the lines of the commission’s report,one can read the need for symmetry between international and domesticmariners and port workers. But what will it take to bring this about?Any answer must include strong leadership combined with robust dataarchitecture.


The commission’s broad-brush strokes willneed to be finely honed before they’re implemented. Industry needscarrots to drive it to compliance. But there’s a stick as well: TheUnited States and its allies can bring their economic power to bear onthose who don’t comply with these sensible measures. When cargo andships are delayed—costing money—because their security doesn’t measureup to national or international standards, the owners andoperatorswill wake up and take notice.

Industry can move when motivated. TheCustoms-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program is a goodexample. C-TPAT is a voluntary program run by CBP in which shippersshare intimate supply chain details with the CBP, facilitatingcompliance and enhancing security. However, the CBP effort is small,tentative and insular. Rather than relying on a global regime to auditsupply chains, it relies on a small team of CBP personnel.

Industry needs to see immediate, visiblebenefits, such as streamlined inspections and less delay, when theycomply with security rules.

In the UK, our partner and ally, commercialsoundness and better security have inadvertently converged as a newtonnage tax (a financial incentive for ship owners) has brought vesselsback into the more secure UK vessel registry.

The information end game for the federalgovernment, if the commission’s suggestions are adopted, will includedata architecture that can support risk-based targeting, fed by massivedata mining and pattern recognition of vessel, cargo and crew data on aglobal scale.

As a first step toward linking globalshipping and supply chains (eventually extending throughout the tradenetwork), DHS should insist on mandatory electronic submissions ofnotice information, require electronic tracking far out at sea andrequire that all crews on ships trading with the United States hold thenew seafarerdocument, which will be able to feed information to DHSdatabases.

If carrots don’t work, maybe sticks will.Ship owners and cargo shippers can follow the rules that bring about amore secure maritime environment or they can ignore them—with all theconsequences that brings. HST

Barry Parker is managingdirector of bdp1 Consulting Ltd. which provides guidance on maritimebusiness, technology and security. A maritime industry veteran, he hasserved as project manager in implementing Internet tracking of vessels.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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