Coast Guard sharpens mission

After Sept. 11: Drug interception is virtually eliminated as national security becomes concern.

October 17, 2001

BY SCRAMBLING to secure the nation's harbors and critical waterways, the U.S. Coast Guard has eliminated two-thirds of its drug interception operations since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Instead, the Coast Guard is calling up reserves and beefing up security, particularly at 50 "high-risk" ports that handle the bulk of the nation's foreign trade.

It is on the highest alert since World War II.

Foreign ships calling at U.S. ports now have to give a 96-hour advance notice of arrival, along with crew, passenger and cargo information.

The crisis has confronted the Coast Guard with dilemmas no one had anticipated.

An example: Some of the best rockfishing in Maryland is underneath the twin spans of the Bay Bridge.

But at what point do recreational boats gathering there become a potential threat?

"I don't think we have a good handle on it," says Capt. Roger Peoples, who heads the Coast Guard operations in Baltimore.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Coast Guard closed the Baltimore harbor for four days.

All watercraft were prohibited, including water taxis and cruise and paddle boats.

In recent testimonies before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, top Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials painted a chilling picture of how unprepared the nation is to counter a terrorist attack through the shipment of dangerous materials or an assault by a rogue vessel.

To change this situation, a costly modernization of Coast Guard equipment is in order. This could be a boon to struggling domestic shipyards.

The terrorism crisis is also likely to benefit Curtis Bay in Anne Arundel County, where the Coast Guard operates a 113-acre yard that is its only industrial-level depot.

Over the past two decades, manufacturing activities were steadily reduced there.

That is likely to change as the Coast Guard increases its preparedness.

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