Written by Cmdr. Jacob Cass and Lt. Cmdr. Jose Mercado
International trade is a powerful engine of America’s and the world’s economy. The International Maritime Organization cites that 90 percent of the world’s global trade is maritime trade. While shipping costs worldwide have exponentially diminished making goods cheaper and the world more connected, this new globalized world increases the risk of bad things and bad people entering America through its ports. The Coast Guard is committed to ensuring the global maritime industry is safer and more secure.
The International Port Security (IPS) Program, established in 2003, plays an important role in reducing risks to American ports, ships and to the entire global maritime transportation system. The IPS Program is committed to working with maritime trading nations to improve global port security. This highly specialized program, with only 60 members worldwide, works with foreign trade partners to codify and standardize a comprehensive approach to international maritime security.
The IPS Program office in the Netherlands, part of the Activities Europe unit, spans an area of operation of 50 countries from Greenland to Pakistan with 10 International Port Security Liaison Officers (IPLSOs). Each IPLSO has a diverse portfolio which could take them from Iraq one week, to the Republic of the Congo the following week.
A significant change came about in 2012 when the Coast Guard signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Commission strengthening its partnership and common goals to secure European and American ports and to counter intentional unlawful acts, especially terrorism. This memorandum significantly shifted IPS Program work from the 28 country European Union to focus on collaboration with maritime trading partners in the Middle East and Africa.
In partnership with the Department of State, the IPS Program is on the forefront of American foreign policy collaborating with maritime trading partners to create safer oceans and ports in places one would never think the U.S. Coast Guard would be working in. Lt. Cmdr. Jose Tony Mercado, who completed a tour in the IPS Program Atlantic Area office and recently reported to Activities Europe, has been to more than a few of the places most don’t commonly picture the Coast Guard traveling to and working with, including Cuba, Venezuela, Senegal, and most recently to Iraq.
“In the IPS Program I have had the opportunity, as a junior officer, to work with senior diplomats and cabinet level foreign officials to develop solutions to port security challenges around the world,” said Mercado.
In the recent trip to Iraq, Mercado and Lt. Cmdr. Paul Rudick worked with the Consulate General Basrah to facilitate assessments of six newly formed, Private-Public-Partnership run facilities in Iraq. The five Private-Public-Partnership facilities were located in the ports of Basrah, Umm Qasr, and Abu Al Fulus, while the sixth facility was Khor al-Amaya Oil Terminal, which is one of two offshore terminals in Iraq. Khor al-Amaya Oil Terminal along with Al Basrah Oil Terminal are two key oil facilities amounting to 90 percent of Iraq’s economy.
Thanks to a close working relationship between Basrah and the multiple Iraqi government agencies, two Iraqi Navy Vessels were provided to transport the team to Khor al-Amaya Oil Terminal which is located two miles from Iranian Waters. The undertaking of this operation was planned and coordinated by multiple agencies to include Basrah, the Coast Guard’s IPS Program, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, United States Central Command, the Basra Oil Company, and the Iraqi Navy. The operation led by Basrah’s deputy principal officer, economic officer, and the IPS team was a first of its kind, and highlighted the importance of the Coast Guard IPS mission.