Since September 11th, the U.S. government has been closing security gaps in aviation. But maritime officials warn that security on our Great Lakes is even less certain. Recently the U.S. Coast Guard held an international conference in Cleveland on Great Lakes security. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:
Since September 11, the U.S. government has been closing security gaps in aviation. But maritime officials warn that security on our Great Lakes is even less certain. Recently the U.S. Coast Guard held an international conference in Cleveland on Great Lakes security. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Schaefer reports:
On September 11, about 55 commercial U.S. and foreign freighters were cruising the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. Even as the nation’s airports were being closed, U.S. Coast Guard officials were ordered to stop and search those vessels. It took two days for the search to be completed. Commander James Hull heads the Coast Guard’s 9th District, which oversees shipping in the Great Lakes region. He says that action alerted the Guard to a serious problem.
“Didn’t know exactly where all those ships were. AIS system solves that.”
AIS is a new communications protocol now being developed by the International Maritime Organization. Using a global positioning system, ships equipped with AIS will be able to transmit their exact location – and identity – to other vessels and maritime authorities. But so far, the system hasn’t been widely adopted. And that’s just the first security risk the Coast Guard discovered.
“We had people asking how you drive the ships and how you get training?”
As the weeks went by, the list of vulnerable areas grew. Nuclear power plants located along the lakeshore, ports and harbors, bridges, tunnels, and locks. Ships carrying hazardous cargo and those from countries with known terrorist links. And then there are the thousands of cargo containers shipped daily from ports around the world.
27-hundred reservists were called up to assist the Coast Guard in patrolling and monitoring sensitive areas. The federal government allocated more than 220-million dollars in additional funds. But four months after the terrorist attacks, more than 50-percent of the Coast Guard’s efforts are still being spent on security. The Guard’s original mission – to guide maritime operations, assist in search and rescue, and help clean up environmental problems – has been largely overshadowed. Nonetheless oversight of commercial shipping is part of the Coast Guard’s job. Goods shipped on the Great Lakes are worth more than 742-billion dollars a year to the U.S. economy. Most of those goods and raw materials enter or leave the Great Lakes in bulk shipments and in containers that are off-loaded directly from ships. Dr. Steven Flynn is a former Coast Guard Commander and a Senior Fellow with the National Security Studies Program at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. He says a disruption to Great Lakes shipping could have wide-reaching consequences for the entire U.S.
“And so if we have another incident…we’re still extremely vulnerable, we’re still not out of the woods on this here – that if it happens in those sectors, my fear is not just the consequence of seeing another sight like I saw on September 16 after the attack, but also is the disruption that would come from happening within those sectors.”
Those disruptions could also severely hamper the Canadian economy, which ships much of its grain and steel through the Great Lakes. As the U.S.’s largest trading partner and nearest neighbor, Canada already shares jurisdiction over Great Lakes resources through the International Joint Commission. Now government officials on both sides of the border say it’s more important than ever to work together.
(1B 258 Streeter Integrated border enforcement)
John Adams is the Canadian Coast Guard Commissioner. He says the U.S. and Canada have recently signed a 30-point plan to jointly improve security on the Great Lakes, while allowing trade to flourish. Both governments have already instituted new 96-hour arrival notification requirements for vessels coming into North American ports. And they’ve extended the international maritime borders from 3-miles to twelve. But there are plenty of other new security plans yet to be adopted, ranging from identity cards and background checks to a point-of-origin system for clearing container cargo. And both countries will be sending representatives to the International Maritime Organization conference in London, where organizers hope to move ahead with new standardized strategies to keep global trade secure. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Schaefer.