Remembering 9/11: Protecting America’s ports

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Co-authored by Lt. Daniel Orchard, International Port Security Program.

A Border Enforcement Security Task Force boarding team conducts a boarding on a tanker vessel April 29, 2009, off the coast of Long Beach, Calif. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.
A Border Enforcement Security Task Force boarding team conducts a boarding on a tanker vessel April 29, 2009, off the coast of Long Beach, Calif. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall.

America’s seaports are an important part of our economy. When the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 occurred a decade ago, the nature of the tragedy understandably led to a rallying call to improve security at our airports. Less evident to many, however, were the social and economic impacts an attack on one of our nation’s ports might have.

Members of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313, forward deployed from Everett, Wash., provide anti-terrorism and force protection at Mina' Ash Shu'aybah Port in Kuwait. U. S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eileen Kelly Fors.
Members of Coast Guard Port Security Unit 313, forward deployed from Everett, Wash., provide anti-terrorism and force protection at Mina' Ash Shu'aybah Port in Kuwait. U. S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eileen Kelly Fors.

Ports like New York City, San Francisco, Baltimore, Houston and Los Angeles are not only the entry point for many of the goods that Americans consume, they are also among our most populated cities. Doing everything possible to protect our seaports is critical for our economy, environment and way of life. Since the 9/11 attacks ten years ago, the Coast Guard and others have worked to improve the security of our seaports.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Coast Guard – with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners, significantly increased inspections of inbound ships for terrorists, stowaways, smuggled materials or weapons. But hundreds of vessels enter our ports each day. No matter how strong our security is at home, a threat to the global supply chain represents a threat to our national interests.

To combat this potential threat from abroad, the Coast Guard created the International Port Security Program three years later to engage our partners around the need to improve security in their ports as well. During the same year, the International Maritime Organization implemented a set of standards for port security called the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, or the ISPS Code.

Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor, Alaska, personnel use an infrared video scope to scan for heat signatures from a cargo container being offloaded from a motor vessel. More than 30 containers were moved to reach a container suspected of housing Chinese migrants smuggled into the United States. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Marshalena Delaney.
Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Dutch Harbor, Alaska, personnel use an infrared video scope to scan for heat signatures from a cargo container being offloaded from a motor vessel. More than 30 containers were moved to reach a container suspected of housing Chinese migrants smuggled into the United States. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Marshalena Delaney.

The Coast Guard has championed the implementation of the ISPS Code by working with more than 150 coastal nations and collaborating with our foreign partners as they develop security systems around global centers of maritime trade and transportation.

Prior to this effort, merchant sailors would experience significant differences in port security as they pulled alongside the pier in various harbors around the world. The security at some ports was nearly impenetrable. In other ports, however, safety was a legitimate concern.

In the relatively short period of time ISPS has been in place, the Coast Guard has seen improvements in the security of foreign ports. One clear measure of success is the drop in the number of stowaways attempting to enter the United States since 2004.

Still, more work remains to be done. The Coast Guard will continue to work with our foreign partners while we simultaneously protect our homeland by boarding and inspecting ships that travel to America.

Our world is powerfully connected by maritime trade. The International Port Security Program is one of the many ways your Coast Guard works around the world to secure America’s maritime borders.

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