Homeland Security Calls On Boaters

by Tim on April 28, 2008

UncleSamNormally, Navagear avoids political issues, except when they have a direct impact on cruising gear-n-gadgets, as with FCC certification of Class B AIS devices.

But I’m going to make an exception for this story. I have no doubt this new effort by the Department of Homeland Security will evoke strong feelings among recreational mariners, one way or the other.

To start things off, though, let’s go right to the "horse’s mouth" and see what the DHS press release says.

Release Date: April 28, 2008

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today a new Small Vessel Security Strategy (SVSS) designed to close security gaps and reduce risks associated with the potential exploitation of small maritime vessels.

The SVSS identifies specific goals for which security efforts can achieve the greatest impact without excessive imposition upon the freedom of operation common to the nation’s waterways.

“We saw quite vividly with the U.S.S. Cole attack that violent extremists will not hesitate to use any means, large or small, in their efforts to inflict blows to our maritime assets,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “This strategy ensures all small vessel stakeholders across our ports and coastal waterways can play a role in unified threat mitigation efforts and replaces today’s seemingly honor-based neighborhood watch program with an efficient and successful means to combat terrorism along our waterways.”

DHS hosted the National Small Vessel Security Summit in June 2007, bringing together approximately 300 small vessel community stakeholders along with federal, state and local government leaders. Participants discussed security risks in the U.S. maritime domain and identified measures to mitigate gaps in small vessel management and improve control within the maritime domain. The SVSS is one of several core findings from the Summit, and identifies four serious concerns associated with the illicit use of small vessels and an overarching vision to minimize the associated risks. Specifically, it focuses on: domestic use of waterborne improvised explosive devices; conveyance for smuggling weapons (including radiological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction) into the U.S.; conveyance for smuggling terrorists into the U.S.; and waterborne platform for conducting a stand-off attack, such as Man-Portable Air Defense System attacks.

Approximately 85 percent of our nation’s critical infrastructure, including our ports and maritime structures, are owned and operated by the private sector. The federal government cannot single-handedly protect and defend against all potential threats of terrorism within the small vessel community. A coordinated multi-layered approach, as defined by the SVSS, will ensure that the maritime domain remains a secure and safe environment where small vessel operators can safely earn a living, travel and enjoy recreational activities without unduly burdensome government regulations.

Specific objectives identified in the SVSS to help achieve this goal include:

  • Continue to develop and leverage a strong partnership with the small vessel community as well as both public and private sectors in order to enhance maritime domain awareness;
  • Fortify maritime security and safety with a more robust, layered defense:
    • Better identification of small vessels operating in U.S. waters,
    • Expanded radiological/nuclear detection capabilities like the DHS West Coast Maritime Radiation Detection Project,
    • Improved situational awareness and information sharing, and
    • Enhanced data analysis to identify high-risk concerns;
  • Leverage technology to enhance the ability to detect, determine intent and when necessary, interdict small vessels; and
  • Cultivate coordination, cooperation and communications between federal, state, local and tribal partners in addition to the private sector and international partners to leverage capabilities and improve security operations within the maritime environment.

DHS will continue working with maritime partners to develop a follow-on small vessel security implementation plan, which will put the strategy into action this year.  

For a copy of the DHS Small Vessel Security Strategy Plan, the National Small Vessel Security Summit Report, or additional information on small vessel security, please visit www.dhs.gov.

Wow. So what’s my reaction? Actually, I’m sort of all-over-the-map on this, right at the moment.

A lot of this makes perfect sense. Many recreational boaters already watch for and report hazards (natural and artificial), which is good. Perhaps, as a result of this campaign, more will do so, and that’s good.

But I’ve got a bit of libertarian idealism floating around in this ol’ brain of mine, too. So I’m not really comfortable with all the new surveillance programs I see popping up here and there.

And the cynic in me says that we can’t really stop a determined attack anyway, unless we place our waterways under an immense vessel-traffic control bureaucracy, with every float-plan filed and every vessel monitored. To work, it would require a military presence with shoot-to-disable discretion authorized for any craft deviating from its voyage plan. Basically, it would be martial-law lock-down on the nation’s waterways, and I can’t say I support THAT idea!

So I’d like to learn more about the SVSS. Despite what the press release says, I can’t find a copy of the DHS Small Vessel Security Strategy Plan at www.dhs.gov. Maybe it hasn’t been posted yet.

However, I found a document with the same title over at Pacnwest.org, the USCG "Citizen’s Action Network" page. Here’s a link: http://pacnwest.org/docs/DHSSVSS.pdf. I’ll read through this 57-page document today or tomorrow, and see how the discussion develops.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Rodriguez April 28, 2008 at 10:29 am

Amen Tim,

You personal comments are right on the mark.


b393capt April 28, 2008 at 6:50 pm

I was looking for mention of AIS … only found one. Wanted to see if this document had any hints to holding up class B, but didn’t see anything.


Captain Jack April 28, 2008 at 7:38 pm

Why would the government want to support class B if you could just stall long enough to get everyone to use Class A. Class A has a much longer range than B. Create a demand for Class A systems and the price will go down. The Class B only exists because of price of Class A. Right?


RLW April 28, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Sailing Anarchy ( http://www.sailinganarchy.com/index_page1.php ) today also covered the new DHS stuff… They pretty much say it all and get it right.


Lars Krumme April 29, 2008 at 9:41 am

Tim, the full copy of the plan is available on the DHS website at http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/small-vessel-security-strategy.pdf.

As I mention on a related post, this announcement comes on the heals of the launch of the $10 million West Coast Maritime pilot program currently underway on Puget Sound. We have the distinct privilege of being the test bed for the training and arming of harbor patrols with radiation detection equipment.

The DHS will be taking the summer to develop the specifics of how they will implement this strategy. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.


Wes April 29, 2008 at 11:19 am

It’s interesting that they use the USS Cole as an example; if a warship can’t defend itself from an attack like this then we are going to need a lot more to “protect us” than this program offers.

A wise man once said:
“a man who sacrifices his liberty for security will receive neither.”


Capt. Frank April 29, 2008 at 8:03 pm

Capt. Jack,
No disrespect, but I really hope you are being facetious, because if you aren’t, then you are clearly not a professional mariner.
Everyone use Class A? Um, I’m sorry but I actually would like my AIS data to be relevant and discernible.
All that notwithstanding, I’d like to take my chances with recreational boaters and not require them to carry any identification. Trust me, I’m not going to be looking at the Class B AIS data, and even if I did see a contact moving right towards me at a high rate of speed, what the heck am I supposed to do about it?


Tim Flanagan, Managing Editor April 29, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Actually, I was thinking about Captain Jack’s post, and it occured to me that “mandatory Class B”, which has been rumored from time to time, might be just the thing the Department Homeland Security is working toward.

Not Class A, I don’t think, for the reasons Captain Frank mentions. Class B data could be easily filtered out by vessels who don’t need it, while the authorities could monitor as much of the Class A and Class B data as they like.

And aside to all readers: please try to keep the tone civil. Captain Jack is a real live professional mariner. Captain Frank says he means no disrespect. Let’s accept that and move forward.


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