State Dept. Group Examines Maritime Security

July 2011

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A collaborative group representing various segments of the maritime industry met June 15
at the U.S. State Department to discuss security concerns facing the commercial and military sectors worldwide.


Representatives of the SIU and the Maritime Trades Department, AFL-CIO were
among the 100-plus audience members. Sponsors of the day-long event included SIUcontracted companies Maersk Line, Limited (MLL); American Roll-On/Roll-Off Carrier (ARC); and APL Shipping.


The group itself is named the Overseas  Security Advisory Council’s (OSAC) Maritime
Security Work Group, self-described as a partnership among the U.S. Department of State’s
Bureau of Diplomatic Security, OSAC and the U.S. private sector “formed to promote safety
and security for American entities with business activities operating in the maritime sector.” More than 5,500 organizations are “constituents” of the parent group, OSAC, including businesses, universities, faith-based groups and others.


Among the featured speakers at the mid-June gathering were Vice Adm. Mark Harnitchek, deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command; Rear Adm. Kevin Cook, U.S. Coast Guard director, prevention policy; Ed Hanley, MLL vice president of labor relations; Patrick Callahan, MLL director of health, safety, security, environment and quality; Fred Finger, ARC vice president and general manager of operations; and Charles Dragonette of the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence.


The meeting featured seven individual presentations, a panel discussion and numerous questions from the audience. Piracy proved prominent in many of the talks, but other issues were addressed including port security, container scanning, programs that are vital to the American-flag fleet, social unrest overseas, terrorism, and regulatory and procedural issues that apply to threat response.


Harnitchek provided an overview of TRANSCOM and cited the “very strong partnership we have with the (U.S.) commercial industry.” He emphasized the fiscal advantages of relying on the commercial sector for sealift and other support, noting “it would cost our government a fortune” to maintain equivalent assets, including shipboard personnel.


Harnitchek said he is concerned that reductions in U.S. preference cargo may lead to a dangerous decrease in U.S.-flag tonnage available to support our armed forces. He said government money spent helping maintain U.S. ships “is money well-spent.”


He added that in TRANSCOM’s dealings with the private sector, “There is a colossal bond of trust that goes beyond the contract.”


Callahan stated that while U.S. and other vessels have improved their respective antipiracy measures, “the root cause is not being addressed.” He said that among many other preventive steps, Maersk has conducted antipiracy exercises with the military, but while those drills have been beneficial there is no apparent long-term solution to the attacks.


During the panel discussion, Bobbie Neal, State Department counter-piracy and maritime security officer, described piracy as “becoming more organized and more violent.”


Cook pointed out that the U.S. has anywhere from four to seven U.S. ships in the high-risk areas in and near the Indian Ocean, but “combatting piracy is a shared responsibility. We need international participation, and assistance needs to become more compulsory.”


He added that U.S.-flag shipowners and operators have done a good job providing feedback and assistance in fighting against piracy.


Finger said ARC believes that “arming vessels is the way to go, but it must be done properly and with safeguards.” He said that from a safety standpoint, he worries more about certain port calls than pirate attacks, pointing to a recent stop by an American-flag ship in Karachi, Pakistan, the week Osama bin Laden was killed, as an example. That stop proved uneventful but tense.


Hanley said he sees a need for bilateral agreements protecting owners, carriers and mariners “if crews have to defend themselves overseas. These are our brothers and sisters on board – American citizens.”


He also suggested ramping up training in hostage survival techniques and called for “a clear order to disable pirate mother ships.”


More than one speaker pointed out that no ship with an armed security team has been overtaken by pirates.


Among the other speakers were representatives of the U.S. Maritime Administration; Carnival Corporation; the Coast Guard’s Global Maritime Operational Threat Response Coordination Center;
the Government Accountability Office; Holland America; and the Office of Naval Research.


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