USCG ensures Guam port safety through boardings, exams
SANTA RITA, Guam—To ensure port security and safety of both the port and mariners, U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam conducted a boarding and exam of the 370-foot Tuvalu-flagged motor vessel Kenyo in the vicinity of Guam in mid-October.
“This effort ensures the security and safety of the vessel, crew, and the port,” Cmdr. Greg Sickels, acting commander of U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam and the acting captain of the port. “The Port of Guam handles over 90 percent of total imports to the island, and it has far-reaching effects for the community here and throughout Micronesia.”
The Sector Boarding Team first contacted the Kenyo and boarded the ship 13 miles offshore to confirm the safety and security of the vessel and crew. This visit is the Kenyo’s first time calling on a U.S. port, thus requiring a U.S. Coast Guard boarding before arrival.
“The vessel crew was compliant, and we verified there were no issues with their documentation or the crew composition before they arrived in port,” said Ensign Ronnie Rivera, the Sector Boarding Team supervisor. “Ensuring the security of our ports, waterways, and coastal infrastructure is important, especially here in Guam where the port plays such a vital role. We have excellent relationships with our port partners.”
The Kenyo, carrying cement, was then attended in port by U.S. Coast Guard vessel inspectors under the port state control program. Port state control is the inspection of foreign-flagged ships in national ports to verify that the ship’s material condition and equipment comply with domestic and international security, safety, and environmental standards and that the ship is crewed and operated in compliance with these rules. The Kenyo crew did well with their drills. They required minor fixes to some equipment and a class review of their emergency steering to compliance before departure.
The U.S. Coast Guard port state control program has existed since 1994, and the primary goal of these exams is safety. The safety of the crew and the safety of the ports they operate. The inspectors will review certificates and documentation, evaluate the vessel’s condition, and run safety drills such as firefighting and abandoning the ship with the crew. At times the vessel crew may be detained and required to make repairs or updates to the ship before it is allowed to sail again. On average, the Guam-based inspectors conduct over 120 port state control exams annually.
The SBTs are new. That’s not to say the unit did not conduct security boardings before 2021, but the team’s composition has grown, and they conduct more operations. Depending on vessel traffic, the SBT executes between 30 and 50 boardings annually.
“We established the Sector Boarding Team in the summer of 2021, so we’re about a year old,” said Rivera. “The SBTs stood up due to the increased focus on Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security, the U.S. Coast Guard, established heightened security measures to minimize the risk to vessels, facilities, and the port from acts of terrorism and other threats.”
Establishing the SBTs, which deploy as a minimum six-person team, also increases officer safety for the personnel conducting the mission. Previously, many sectors conducted security boardings with four-person Vessel Boarding Security Teams which are being phased out or augmented by other U.S. government organizations with boarding authorities such as Customs and Border Security.
All these actions occur under the U.S. Coast Guard captain of the port’s authority, which comes from the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. The Ports and Waterways Safety Authority, 46 U.S.C. Chapter 700, as implemented in Title 33 CFR, Part 160, requires certain vessels to provide an Advance Notice of Arrival to the Coast Guard’s National Vessel Movement Center before entering the navigable waters of the United States, or to any port or place under the jurisdiction of the United States including its territories like Guam.
The information provided via the ANOA comprises a portion of the Coast Guard’s information to evaluate the safety, security, or environmental risks the vessel may pose. Additionally, the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 requires the Coast Guard to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-terrorism measures in foreign ports. It also provides for the imposition of conditions of entry on vessels, regardless of the flag state, arriving in the United States from countries that do not maintain effective anti-terrorism measures.
Based on an evaluation of this and several other criteria, the U.S. Coast Guard may select a vessel to receive an offshore High Interest Vessel security boarding before entering the United States. As with the Kenyo, a security boarding must occur any time a ship makes its first entry to the U.S. The Service continuously evaluates and updates the offshore HIV security boarding criteria. When selected for boarding, the Service will place a captain of the port order on the vessel requiring them to remain offshore until a Coast Guard security boarding takes place. If a vessel master violates a captain of the port order, severe civil and potential criminal penalties may be applied.
The U.S. Coast Guard is sensitive to impacts and delays to maritime commerce and aims to conduct these boardings with minimal disruption to a vessel’s schedule whenever possible. The Kenyo was met offshore and continued toward Guam at a slow speed during the boarding, which took less than an hour. U.S. Coast Guard boarding teams will make every effort to conduct these security boardings before a vessel embarks a pilot for further transit to a U.S. port or destination. However, at times and where appropriate, recurrent boardings will occur based on a combination of risk factors for each vessel.
U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia/Sector Guam comprises nearly 300 personnel conducting response and prevention departments with administrative and logistics support to the Joint Rescue Sub-Center, three fast response cutters, and a small boat station. The unit provides a significant portion of the U.S. Coast Guard’s enduring regional presence serving the people of the Pacific by conducting 10 of the Service’s 11 statutory missions with a focus on search and rescue, defense readiness, living marine resources protection, and ensuring commerce through marine safety and ports, waterways, and coastal security. (USCG)