My turn: Confident that Coast Guard can protect against terrorists

Posted: Friday, June 10, 2005

When I learned a few months ago about proposed Coast Guard regulations that will establish 100-yard security zones surrounding cruise ships under way (25 yards in port), I immediately dragged out some charts, as I'm sure many other fishermen, charter operators, and general boaters also did.

I looked first at Gastineau Channel, but that body is over a half-mile wide (1,000 yards) throughout except near the Rock Dump, where it narrows to a quarter-mile (500 yards).

Also, all large and less maneuverable vessels announce their entry into Gastineau Channel and their departure from downtown via a safety message broadcast on Channel 16, so I can't see how a boater could unwittingly violate these security zones.

No problem seems to exist in Wrangell Narrows, since large cruise ships cannot navigate that body due to several reasons including it being too shallow.

I checked Tracy Arm, since I also occasionally transit that body. No problem up there as it is about 800- to 1,000 yards wide throughout.

I didn't respond to the Coast Guard's request for comments, because I didn't identify any areas needing exclusion.

I was heartened to recently learn that the small cutter acting as a security vessel for departing cruise ships had its weapons manned and ready. The vulnerability of cruise ships to attack is substantial and undeniable. I would consider that assigning a cutter not at the ready would be a useless faade in the event of attack.

Although less vulnerable to attack from shore, we surely need some level of security shoreside, and new cameras aimed in the direction of potential threat is an inexpensive way of providing that additional protection.

Coast Guard cutters have been armed for more than 200 years with all sorts of things: guns, rockets, depth-charges, torpedoes and missiles. The routine arming of Coast Guard helicopters, small boats, and Coast Guard personnel within the United States is also now clearly indicated.

The Coast Guard has policies prohibiting any Coast Guard members of any rank from harassing or humiliating anyone in the performance of their duties. Any boarding, whether by the Coast Guard (armed), state troopers (armed), or any other law enforcement agent (armed), is inconvenient and often lengthy. Any rare instance of unprofessional behavior should be immediately reported to higher authorities, rather than be vented through nonspecific allegations a year later.

There are many in this world who have dedicated their lives to finding a way to kill a large number of people at a time. These evildoers are not all confined within Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Russia, or any other country.

Terrorists succeeded at the World Trade Center (second attempt), the Pentagon and the Oklahoma City Federal Building. They failed to destroy either the White House or the Capitol because of the bravery of passengers aboard United Flight 93.

They failed to destroy Los Angeles Airport terminals due to the alertness of a U.S. Customs Officer in Anacortes, Wash. In Iraq, vigilant Coast Guard and Navy sailors have thwarted every attempt to blow up offshore oil rigs. The first Coast Guard sailor killed in Iraq was blown up while successfully stopping such an attempt.

Any terrorist must certainly salivate at the potential of killing thousands of U.S. citizens aboard a ship within U.S. waters. If and when such attack is attempted, it will be thoroughly planned and will target a perceived weak defensive point.

Our relative remoteness doesn't provide much defensive protection. Indeed, the remoteness of rescue facilities between ports, the deep waters, and the psychological impact of an attack against thousands in such a venue as Southeast Alaska, if anything, increases our attractiveness as a terrorist target.

The motto of the Coast Guard is "Semper Paratus" (Always Ready). I trust that the Coast Guard will carefully assess any modification of these new forthcoming regulations that may be needed in certain areas. I am confident that every Coast Guard sailor, whether ashore, afloat, or flying around, will never let boredom degrade vigilance.

• Juneau resident Jack Cadigan is a retired 30-year Coast Guard veteran and charter boat skipper.

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