Recreational Boating Safety – Maritime Domain Awareness

Bob CurrieBy Bob Currie, Recreational Boating Safety Specialist
U. S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Station Galveston Flotilla
Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) is defined by the International Maritime Organization as the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment. The maritime domain is defined as all areas and things of, on, under, relating to, adjacent to, or bordering on a sea, ocean, or other navigable waterway, including all maritime-related activities, infrastructure, people, cargo, and vessels and other conveyances.

The Base Galveston Flotilla of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary operates out of the US Coast Guard base on Galveston Island. They aid the Coast Guard by providing maritime observation patrols in Galveston Bay; by providing recreational boating vessel safety checks; and by working alongside Coast Guard members in maritime accident investigation, small boat training, providing a safety zone, Aids to Navigation verification, cooking in base and station galleys and aboard cutters, and on the Coast Guard Drone Team.

Threats
The main purposes of MDA are to recognize threats and take action to reduce or eliminate them by reporting them. The variety of maritime domain threats, as recognized in the National Plan to Achieve Maritime Domain Awareness, include:

  1. Nation-State Threats: The prospect of major regional conflicts erupting, escalating, and drawing in major powers should not be discounted. Nonetheless, for the near-term, states represent a more significant challenge to global security. Some states of concern provide safe havens for criminals and terrorists, who use these countries as bases of operations to export illicit activities into the maritime domain and into other areas of the globe. The probability of a rogue government using a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is expected to increase during the next decade. An even greater danger is that a state of concern will provide critical advanced conventional weaponry, WMD components, delivery systems and related materials, technologies and weapons expertise to another rogue state or a terrorist organization that is willing to conduct WMD attacks. This is of the greatest concern since the maritime domain is the likely venue by which WMD will be brought into the United States.
  2. Terrorist Threats: The vastness of the maritime domain provides great opportunities for exploitation by terrorists. The use of smaller commercial and recreational vessels closer to our shores and areas of interest to transport WMD is of significant concern. Additionally, terrorists can use large merchant ships to move powerful conventional explosives or WMD for detonation in a port or alongside an offshore facility. Terrorist groups have demonstrated a capacity to use shipping as a means of conveyance for positioning their agents, logistics support, and revenue generation. Terrorists have shown that they have the capability to use explosives-laden suicide boats as weapons. This capability could easily be used with merchant ships as kinetic weapons to ram another vessel, warship, port facility, or offshore platforms.
  3. Trans-National Criminal and Piracy Threats: Modern-day pirates and other criminals are well organized and well equipped, often possessing advanced communications, weapons, and high-speed craft to conduct smuggling of people, drugs, weapons, and other contraband, as well as piracy.
  4. Environmental and Social Threats: Catastrophic destruction of marine resources, conflict between nation-states over maritime resources, and mass migration flows have the potential to harm the maritime domain or destabilize regions of the world. The accompanying economic impacts are often significant.

America’s Waterway Watch Program: Report Suspicious Activity
Suspicious Activity is a pattern of behavior that arouses a “gut feeling” that something is not right. Trust your intuition, but remember it is the behavior of individuals that is suspicious, not their ethnic, religious, or national origin. For instance, if you see persons dumping what looks like bales of hay overboard, that is a reportable suspicious activity of the Trans-National Criminal and Piracy type. If you see a vessel discharging liquid waste or oil overboard, that is a reportable suspicious activity of the Environmental and Social Threat type. If you see smaller vessels offloading fish onto a larger mother ship, this could be an illegal fishing operation.

Identifying Suspicious Activity
The American Waterways Program has some recommendations for identifying suspicious activity. Identifying suspicious activity starts with understanding the steps a terrorist group takes to plan an attack. The acronym SETS will help you understand the basic steps and indicators.

SURVEILLANCE involves photographing, videotaping, drawing and/or mapping or other means of monitoring a potential target. (Types of surveillance include fixed, mobile, progressive, creative, overt, and covert.)

ELICITATION involves asking detailed questions in an attempt to gain knowledge of hidden or proprietary information. Things to keep in mind:

Listen carefully when engaged in a conversation with a stranger. When they begin to ask or inquire about guarded information you may be involved in, you can suspect that elicitation is being used. Remember, the conversation may seem totally innocent.

Avoid becoming a victim of elicitation by sharing proprietary, classified or guarded information only with those that possess a need to know; without exception. If you suspect that you are being targeted, simply reply to the elicitor’s questions with an inquiring question of your own.

TESTS OF SECURITY are tools used to develop timelines of authoritative response to a particular incident or occurrence. Staging an incident can be done to determine access vulnerability and/or establish a timeline for later use. Examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Bomb threats
  • Small fires (trash can/dumpster)
  • Abandoned packages

A test of security is likely to occur near a potential target or an integral component in the plan to attack a potential target.

SUSPICIOUS BEHAVIOR is displayed behavior that is out of place or out of character with the environment. Behavior is the key enabler. What activity is the person engaging in that is out of place with the immediate environment (their surroundings)? If the activity is out of character, then that activity may be considered suspicious. Remember, people are not suspicious, behavior is. To report suspicious activity: Call the National Response Center at 1-877-249-2824. If there is immediate danger to life or property, call 911 or the U.S. Coast Guard on Channel 16 of your marine/VHF radio. If you are using the Coast Guard app on your phone (and you should), there is an icon to report suspicious activity.

Summary
The US Coast Guard asks all boaters to be responsible citizens and report suspicious activity on the water. Historically private citizens have played an important part in their country’s defense against threats, whether the threats are domestic or foreign. One last note: Do not fish or boat inside security zones. Security zones are clearly marked by large signs. Staying outside of security zones could save you from thousands of dollars in fines, loss of your boat, and even prison time.

For more information on boating safety, please visit the Official Website of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Boating Safety Division at www.uscgboating.org. Questions about the US Coast Guard Auxiliary or our free Vessel Safety Check program may be directed to me at [email protected] I am available to perform free Vessel Safety Checks, and I will come to your location to perform them. SAFE BOATING!

[Jan-11-2021]

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