The Maritime Transportation Security Act Revisited

by Christopher Doane and Joseph DiRenzo III
By Christopher Doane,    By Jospeh DiRenzo III, jdirenzo@domprep.comThe requirements of the Maritime Transportation Security Act (MTSA) of 2002 – which was specifically designed to strengthen security in U.S. ports – became effective on 1 July 2004.  The primary responsibility for implementation of the MTSA regulations was assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard. Two years later, experts in maritime security both in and outside of government are taking a long second look to see how implementation has progressed and what work remains to be done. By the time the MTSA-mandated regulations went into effect just over two years ago, the Coast Guard already had approved 44 area maritime security plans (which govern the overall security of U.S. ports), approximately 3,100 facility security plans, and 9,500 vessel security plans.  Approving the plans was only the first step, though; the plans also had to be implemented by the various stakeholders in each of those plans. An exercise program to test the area plans also had to be developed, and facility and vessel security verification programs also had to be established, and implemented, to ensure compliance with the plans.  Finally, a means to ensure continual improvements as and when needed had to be created and implemented.   Tests, Exercises, and Evaluations To test the area plans, the Coast Guard – working in close cooperation with the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) – initiated the Port Security Training Exercise Program, or PortSTEP.  The two agencies agreed on a schedule to conduct 40 PortSTEP exercises between August 2005 and October 2007 to evaluate the ability of federal, state, and local agencies to execute a unified and effective response to a transportation security incident (TSI).   Port exercises usually take two forms: table-top exercises, during which representatives of the stakeholder agencies participate in a facilitated discussion to decide on how they would respond to a particular scenario (provided to them as part of the exercise); and full-scale, hands-on, almost-real-life exercises in which the agencies participating would actually deploy their forces in response to a given scenario.  If all goes well, the lessons learned from the two types of exercises are used to update the The corrective actions taken ranged from a temporary halt of security operations to the issuance of formal notices port’s security plan. To verify implementation of the vessel and facility security plans, the Coast Guard has initiated and is carrying out a security compliance program, which consists both of annual compliance visits and – either when a breach of security occurs, or because of observations during other Coast Guard interactions with industry – unscheduled evaluations of security adequacy. The corrective actions taken when problems have been discovered have ranged from a temporary halt of security operations at the facility or vessel to the issuance of formal notices to owners and/or operators to correct existing deficiencies in their plans. Diplomacy Needed for International Cooperation Another key MTSA requirement assigns responsibility to the Coast Guard to conduct foreign port security assessments. To carry out that important but highly sensitive mandate, the Coast Guard established an International Port Security Program that uses both liaison officers (each of whom is assigned a portfolio of other nations with which they develop working relationships), and port visit teams, the members of which visit U.S. trading-partner nations to share port security practices and observe port security measures. More than 50 countries – representing the “last ports of call” for over 80 percent of the vessels arriving in U.S. ports – have been visited since the start of the program.   The actions already taken represent obvious and frequently impressive progress in implementation of the Maritime Transportation Security Act, but even those in charge of the various programs listed above say that there is still much more to be done. Moreover, several other important programs and projects – e.g., the Transportation Workerentification Card (TWIC) program, the Enhanced Crewmemberentification/International Seafarersentification program, the Automaticentification System (AIS) project, and the Long Range Vessel Tracking/Identification System project –are still in various stages of planning, funding, and implementation and must be evaluated periodically for the foreseeable future. There is general agreement in the maritime community that all of those major programs should be implemented just as quickly as possible.  Another step that should be considered, the experts say, is a new round of port, facility, and vessel vulnerability assessments to evaluate the MTSA’s effectiveness in reducing overall maritime risk. ____________________________________________________ Christopher Doane and Joseph DiRenzo III are retired Coast Guard officers currently serving as Coast Guard civilians. Both also are Visiting Fellows at the Joint Forces Staff College and frequent contributors to DOMPREP Journal. Although various experts in and out of government were consulted in the preparation of this article, the opinions presented here are those of the two authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any U.S. government official.