By Charley Havnen
The elections held on November 6th have helped to focus on some significant issues that have been mired within the halls of Congress for the past year. It is now clear that our President will get his agenda accomplished in short order. The lame-duck session of Congress has been tasked with creating the Department of Homeland Security. This will probably be done almost exactly in the manner the White House originally requested.
It also seems extremely likely that we will see a strong port security statute out of the same Congressi
onal lame-duck session. The next round of port security grant money is also nigh, with predictions that it will contain $120 million in grants. Submission deadlines are rumored to be before the first of the year. The grants will probably be constituted very much the same way that the previous grant program was structured this past spring. Under the original grant program, the funds were actually assigned to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA wisely had the US Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) oversee and administer the program.
As an observer of the body politic, it appears that the overall US posture is hardening towards war, with similar preparations seen in the Islamic world. It seems, to many observers, that we are moving ever closer toward World War III, between the Islamic world and western civilization - a frightening thought. While none will admit it, many within our government believe that this may in fact be the case.
Is the present atmosphere in Washington the result of Republican leadership, failure by the Democrats to properly enunciate their concerns, a deep-seated desire to strike back at an aggressor, or is it some form of primal, rally-around-the-flag herd instinct? It may take years to figure that one out.
Having said that, it is clear that we are going to see a serious port security statute, one having a substantial impact upon all port facilities and most, if not all, vessels in the US. The details of the programs will depend on the content of the Port Security statute and the standards that will come out of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London. The standards may include the entire shopping list that the Coast Guard wants from IMO, and some things the USCG does not expect or want - at least in future years. Not all items may be endorsed by the IMO. The USCG would have IMO create a whole new set of standards focused on anti-terrorism. Certainly, many of the US's wishes will be passed by the IMO.
It is very clear that increased physical plant security for both facilities and vessels will be mandated. Security plans will have to be developed in accordance with standards that have yet to be fully established, much less published. The standards will be published in IMO/SOLAS-type documents and in the form of Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circulars (NVICs). Security plans for vessels will be required to be reviewed and approved by the USCG in Washington. It is not yet clear, but foreign vessels are expected to have security plans OK'd by the USCG if the vessels intend to call in US ports. Local Marine Safety Offices will review and approve all individual port facility security plans. It is not yet known how fast these standards will descend upon us - weeks? Months? It could conceivably go on for several years.
Security training will be made mandatory for facility and vessel personnel, as will exercises.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should. The USCG will undoubtedly use the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and the regulations that came from it, as the template for terrorist regulations.
Much of what they will do is fairly predictable. It is the technical details that will cause much of the commotion and all of the problems. This will become particularly important during times of heightened security alerts. It could come to pass that less-secure facilities may have to shut down during elevated security alert conditions.
The IMO standards will apply to facilities as well as vessels that engage in international trade. Many of us believe that very similar standards will be applied one way or another to all dangerous cargo facilities engaging in purely domestic trade as well as those which handle cargoes internationally.
What will this mean offshore to the deepwater oil production units? They will probably be included among the facilities that must have security plans in compliance with these as-yet unwritten standards.
Just before the election, the log jam between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate that had been holding up S.1214, the Hollings Bill, had been broken. The election has made that moot. Funding sources will be identified by Congress and the White House, and the bill will be passed. The details must still be worked out, as the Senate and House versions of the bill still differ dramatically.
The US will continue to aggressively pursue overseas inspection of containers bound for the US. Many Europeans currently believe that such actions constitute economic sanctions, intended to gain some form of competitive advantage.
The main thing that has become clear over the past few weeks, and has further crystallized in the wake of the election results, is that the US is going forward in our war against terrorism, and that the US will take strong steps to protect our transportation infrastructure from attack.
Charley Havnen is a Commander USCG Ret. His organization can help you with your vessel construction project, regulatory problems, vessel manning issues, procedure manuals, accident analysis or expert witness. His organization can do what you can't or don't want to do. He can be reached by contacting the Havnen Group: (800) 493-3883 or (504) 394-8933, fax: (504) 394-8869, or email: email@example.com.